The tsunami that wreaked havoc in Japan on March 11 raised the same question that every other natural disaster brings to the fore: Where was God? People want an answer in twenty-five words or less. God’s answer encompasses the entire Bible from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22, so any summary is necessarily something of a distortion. Nevertheless, I will try to point out a few biblical truths that are sometimes left out of the discussion. (I explore these concepts more fully in chapter 3 of The Beauty of God for a Broken World -- click for a summary of the book.)
1. When God finished creating the earth and its inhabitants, He pronounced the result “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Nevertheless, the creation was not yet in its final state, for God told Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The word translated “subdue” means to subdue by force. God placed the first couple in a perfect garden, but the world outside was wild. Men and women were given the task of taming the wildness, not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of the whole creation.
2. Hebrews 2:8, quoting from Psalm eight’s description of man, says, “You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” Then in a massive understatement the verse continues, “But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.” Because of sin, Adam and Eve and their posterity were not able to fulfill the divine command of Genesis 1:28. As God said to the man after the fall,
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you.
3. “The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth,” but when Christ returns “the creation itself will be set free from its slavery corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21-22). So the final redemption of lost men and women will result in the transformation of the world. The creation will become all that it was meant to be.
4. In this present age earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and droughts bring much misery and destruction. Both the good and the evil suffer such things, and no one is entitled to point a finger and say, “They must have been worse sinners than others” (Luke 13:1-5). We suffer individually and corporately because sin has alienated us from God, and God’s curse has prevented us from exercising benevolent dominion over the earth.
5. For the most part, scientists are able to describe the physical mechanism behind natural disasters. In the case of the Japanese tsunami, the Pacific plate of the earth’s crust is gradually moving under the plate beneath northern Honshu. When the stresses became great enough, the earth fractured and the sea floor rose by several meters.
6. The physical mechanism, however, is only part of the explanation. Behind everything that happens is the concurring power of God, “who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). God does not set aside the laws that He has built into His world (at least, not very often), but He works in and through them. He is the judge of all the earth, and if He chooses to settle accounts with human beings one by one or in larger numbers, that is His prerogative.
7. While we are rightly disturbed in mind and heart by the massive devastation of March 11, the Bible, with full awareness of such disasters nevertheless proclaims that God’s mercy is greater than His judgment (Exodus 34:6-7). That mercy is available to all who will repent and trust in His crucified, risen Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4-9).