When we experience devastating natural disasters, people often ask, “Why”? Some blame or give credit to God. Others make political statements, like Jennifer Lawrence who said, “You’re watching these hurricanes now, and it’s really hard … not to feel Mother Nature’s rage or wrath.” There is no such thing as Mother Nature. Nature is a thing, not a person. Nature does not have a mind or will to do anything. The created order does its thing based on numerous variables.
While Harvey and Irma are mega-storms, there have been others. It’s also true of earthquakes and tsunamis.
The 1900 Galveston Hurricane killed 8,000 people and left the city in ruins. There was another one in 1915 that left 400 dead. The Miami Hurricane of 1926 produced the highest sustained wind speed ever recorded in the United States at the time; it led to a storm surge of nearly 15 feet. More than 370 people died and 6,381 were injured. Let’s not forget the Florida Key’s Labor Day hurricane of 1935 that caused 408 deaths. There have been many others.
There’s a record of storms going back more than 400 years, to 1605, before the National Hurricane Centers HURricane DATabases (HURDAT) was developed.
The people affected by these storms live in hurricane areas. They know the risks. Are they more evil than other people? There are parts of the world that never experience such harsh weather conditions. Are they more righteous than those in hurricane alley?
Lawrence has gotten political, claiming that the rise of Donald Trump is the reason for these latest storms. Are we to believe that “Mother Nature” ripped through the Caribbean islands causing untold damage because Donald Trump is the President of the United States? What kind of twisted logic is that? I’m sure they would like someone to explain this sort of Hollywood-entitled logic to them.
What about those who are arguing that hurricanes and earthquakes are end-time prophetic signs based on this passage from Luke 21:24?
“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves.”
In context, this prophecy refers to what was going to take place before the generation to whom Jesus was speaking passed away: “So YOU also, when YOU see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place” (Luke 21:31-32). Every time “this generation” is used in the gospels, it always refers to the generation of Jesus’ day (Matt. 11:16; 12:41, 45; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12 [twice], 8:38; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51, 17:25; 21:32).
As history attests, Jesus was right. There were huge storms prior to Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70. We read of a massive storm in Acts 27. The storm is described as a “Euraquilo,” that is, “a northeaster” (27:14). Luke writes that they did not see the sun or stars “for many days” (27:20). The ship finally ran aground where it was “broken up by the force of the waves” (27:41).
The Roman historian Tacitus describes a series of similar events in AD 65:
Campania was devastated by a hurricane . . . the fury of which extended to the vicinity of the City, in which a violent pestilence was carrying away every class of human beings . . . [H]ouses were filled with dead bodies, the streets with funerals. ((George Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1913), 143.))
The Mediterranean Sea floor is littered with ships that broke apart and sank because of “the roaring of the sea and the waves.” These storms had prophetic significance for that generation (“this generation”) because Jesus said they did. The same is true of famines, earthquakes, false, prophets, and false Christs. It’s not that we don’t have storms, earthquakes, famines, false prophets today — all of these have been around for more than two millennia — it’s that they had specific prophetic significance for events leading up to and including the destruction of the temple and judgment of Jerusalem that took place in AD 70 (Matt. 24:1-2).
The natural disasters described by Matthew, Mark, and Luke in the Olivet Discourse pointed specifically to the coming of Jesus in judgment against Jerusalem before that first-century generation passed away. We know this because Jesus told us in exacting detail. The earthquakes, famines, and bad weather conditions were not in themselves judgments. They’ve always occurred and will continue to occur. The judgment was the destruction of the temple.
There is one additional point to consider. Luke 21:25 “may figuratively signify tumult among the nations (compare Is 17:12; Rev 17:15)” ((B.J. Oropeza, 99 Reasons Why No One Knows When Christ Will Return (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 73.)) and not actually be referring to weather conditions affecting the seas.
Alas, the uproar of many peoples Who roar like the roaring of the seas, And the rumbling of nations Who rush on like the rumbling of mighty waters! The nations rumble on like the rumbling of many waters, But He will rebuke them and they will flee far away, And be chased like chaff in the mountains before the wind, Or like whirling dust before a gale (Isa. 17:12-13).
What was going to happen to Jerusalem was like a massive storm. Consider the full context:
[T]there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the nations until the times of the nations are fulfilled. There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world [oikoumene]; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken (Luke 21:24-26).
This great distress is limited to the “the land” and “this people” related to that particular generation (Luke 21:32). Houston and the Caribbean are not in the picture. It’s a local event fought with swords. Notice the subsequent horror. “This people . . . will be led captive into all the nations.” Jerusalem, not the world, will be “trampled underfoot by the nations until the times of the nations are fulfilled.” “Coming upon the world” is inaccurate. The Greek word kosmos is not used; it’s oikoumenē, a reference to limited geography (Luke 2:1; Acts 11:28; Rev. 3:10), often translated as “Roman Empire” or “inhabited earth,” the world of their day. Oikumene refers to limited geography.
Rome was the superpower that used its swords and war machines against Jerusalem. Jews were “led captive into all the nations” after the destruction of the temple in AD 70. I discuss this and other topics in my brand new book Wars and Rumors of Wars.
Take note of the fact that God gave ample warning about the judgment and the signs they should look for in order to escape (Luke 21:20; Matt. 24:15-20).
What about the claim that these weather events are God’s judgment? If they are, then why the Caribbean and not a city like the homosexual capital of the world, Tel Aviv? Why not North Korea? Why not Washington DC? Why not the Islamic nations? If you want to get political, Houston, and Harris County (707,914 for Hillary and 545,955 for Trump), the hardest hit areas by Harvey, voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. Houston elected a lesbian mayor and the city council passed the notorious transgender bathroom bill that was later rescinded by voters via an election.. I’m not sure how Jennifer Lawrence would respond to these facts.
This isn’t to say that we should not take notice of events like these. Jesus says we should, but not because they are particular judgments for particular people:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5).
The deaths associated with this tower were not a particular judgment. The same is true of floods and earthquakes. The fall of the tower of Babel was because we are told that it was. The storm that is described in the book of Acts is not described as a judgment. Similar storms had occurred before.
What should we think of those people who were killed by Pontius Pilate while they were offering sacrifices? People might have conjectured that there was some evil in their life. Maybe they were like Nadab and Abihu who offered a sacrifice with “strange fire” before the LORD with the result that “fire came out from the presence of the lord Lord and consumed them” (Lev. 10:1-3).
Jesus gives no indication that any of these people did anything particularly wrong to deserve a particular punishment.
Matthew Henry’s comments are spot on:
Mention was made to Christ of the death of some Galileans. This tragical story is briefly related here, and is not met with in any historians. Towers, that are built for safety, often prove to be men’s destruction. He cautioned his hearers not to blame great sufferers as if they were, therefore, to be accounted, great sinners. As no place or employment can secure from the stroke of death, we should consider the sudden removals of others as warnings to ourselves. On these accounts, Christ founded a call to repentance. The same Jesus that bids us repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, bids us repent, for otherwise, we shall perish.
Does this mean that God does not bring judgment? Not at all. I suspect since we do not have any specific revelation about certain disasters-as-judgments like we do in the Bible, that we should be measured in our comments. It’s better to conclude that God’s judgment comes by way of suffering the consequences of violating God’s specific commands. In this case, God says, “If you want to live contrary to My moral order, you will suffer the consequences.” His judgment is to leave them to live out the inevitable consequences of their law breaking. I believe the rise of AIDS is one example. Abortion is another. Women killing off their future.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness… Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator —who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:18-32).
It’s not only homosexuality. It could be “the love of money” that’s the “root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Fill in the blank: “The love of __________ that is contrary to God’s Word is the root of all kinds of evil and its consequences. In another place, Paul writes, “But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all . . . . But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13).
And what should we do? Paul answers: “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:9, 13-17).