Disasters and death
I was brought up on a farm near the town of Forbes in central New South Wales in Australia. In the past week many people had to evacuate their homes in Forbes and other towns due to a flood in the Lachlan River. This flood reached similar heights to the record floods in the 1950s.
In the last few years we have had major droughts, bushfires (wildfires), pandemics, and floods in Australia. People’s lives and livelihood have been devastated and there has been a financial crisis. Disasters like this are unexpected – they can catch us by surprise. The Bible says that disasters are warnings (Appendix).
How to overcome anxiety
Another difficult day for communities around New South Wales in Australia. At midnight, with the threat still not over, there are 7 fires at Emergency Warning and 11 at Watch and Act. Last night there were 26 emergency-level fires burning across NSW and Victoria. In NSW, about 3,600 firefighters were battling blazes while hundreds of others were pre-positioned to tackle outbreaks.
A state-wide total fire ban remains in place for Sunday, 5 January. The Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner said, “I don’t know the length but I imagine there would be more than 15,000 km (10,000 miles) of fire edge we’ve got to try and contain”. (more…)
When to praise God
Emotions are a powerful part of our lives. But do we control our emotions or do our emotions control us? For example, do we only praise God when we feel like it?
Job was a wealthy man with a large family who lived before the time of Moses. One day four separate disasters wiped out all his possessions and children. His oxen, donkeys and camels were stolen and his sheep were killed by lightning. This was a total loss because there was no insurance in those days. And his children died when a house collapsed on them in a severe storm.
How did Job respond to these calamities? He would have been devastated and stricken with grief and loss. Did he stop trusting in God in such trying circumstances? (more…)
Lessons from Sodom
Often someone with a brain injury has no outward physical signs of injury, and may have trouble convincing others that they do have a disability. It’s common for family, employers and friends to not understand there are problems when they can’t see any physical evidence. They don’t believe that there is a brain injury and think it’s a weak excuse for inappropriate behavior. Some people also doubt God’s judgment. They don’t believe that it will ever happen and think that hell is an imaginary place. But an incident in the Bible shows that God does indeed judge the ungodly.
Lot’s bad decision
Lot was Abram’s nephew who travelled with him to live in Canaan about 3,900 years ago (Gen. 12:4-5). After there was conflict between their herders, Abram suggested that they live in separate places and he let Lot choose first. Lot decided to live near the city of Sodom on the well-watered plain near the Dead Sea, while Abram lived as a nomad in the hills of Canaan (Gen. 13:10-13).
This turned out to be a bad choice by Lot. We have a foretaste of this as we are told “Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13NIV).
Temptation from Sodom
Later there was a war and Lot and his possessions were captured and taken northwards towards Damascus (Gen. 14:1-24). When Abram heard about this he took a band of men and rescued Lot and his possessions. When they returned the king of Sodom said that Abram could keep the possessions he had recovered as a reward. But Abram resisted this temptation.
Abram pleads for Sodom
When Abraham was told that God was going to destroy Sodom because of their wickedness and sinfulness, Abraham negotiated with God, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the 50 righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:23-25). God responded, “If I find 50 righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake”. Then Abram said what about 45 righteous people? Then he progressively reduced the number to 40, 30, 20, and finally 10. And God said, “For the sake of 10 (righteous people), I will not destroy it (Sodom)” (Gen. 18:26-32).
But the next morning, Abram looked down from the hills towards Sodom “and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace” (Gen. 19:27-28). This means that there had been less than ten righteous people in the city of Sodom.
Destruction of Sodom
When Lot was told to escape from Sodom with his family because God was going to destroy the city, he told his sons in law, but they thought he was joking. So they perished in the disaster. Only Lot and his two daughters reached safety in Zoar. Like in the global flood, only one family escaped the disaster. And the town of Zoar was spared from the disaster because of Lot’s request to God.
“So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, He remembered Abraham, and He brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived” (Gen. 19:29). God remembered Abram’s plea for Sodom. God destroyed it because there were less than 10 righteous people. But He answered Abraham’s prayer by rescuing Lot. Only three people escaped from Sodom.
The destruction was so complete that there is considerable doubt today as to the exact location of the ancient city of Sodom.
When God gave the reasons for His judgement of Jerusalem, He said that they were worse than those living in Sodom who “were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me” (Ezek. 16:49-50). The Sodomites were guilty of social injustice and sexual immorality, such as practicing homosexuality (Jude 7). And they were proud of their behavior (Isa. 3:9)! These actions were the results of their rejection of God.
The sins of Sodom are still prevalent today. This shows that human nature hasn’t changed over the past 3,900 years! We’re not evolving into better people even though we have improved technology! And their sins were more serious than a lack of hospitality, which is the interpretation often given today.
Lessons for us
What can we learn from what happened at Sodom?
First, God judges the ungodly. This is a solemn lesson. The Bible says that Sodom is “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Pt. 2:6). It’s “an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). Sodom was burnt to ashes. It shows how the Lord “holds the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment” (2 Pt. 2:9). As judgment day came for Sodom, it will come to all who reject God’s revelation to them. The wicked will be punished in hell. Few people believe this message from the Bible. Few people will read or “Like” this blogpost.
It also shows that God is a fair judge. He told Abram about His plan. And He was willing to mitigate the judgement based on Abram’s request. God is a just judge. The wickedness of Sodom had become so great that it would have been unjust of God not to judge it. And God is a merciful judge. He rescued three people from the judgment. He discriminated between the guilty and the innocent.
Jesus said that His second coming to judge unbelievers will be like what happened at Sodom, “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all” (Lk. 17:28-29). So the destruction of Sodom is a foretaste of a day when all rebellion against God will be judged and destroyed.
What kind of people deserve to be destroyed like this? When Jesus sent out His disciples to announce the kingdom of God, if a town rejected this message then “it will be more bearable on that day (of judgment) for Sodom than for that town” (Lk. 10:12). They will be judged more severely than the city of Sodom. What kind of people deserve to be destroyed in this way? Those who have rejected God. Those who have rejected the message about Jesus in the Bible. Until we trust in what God did through Jesus Christ, we all deserve to be judged.
If you don’t trust in Jesus, then you are like those who lived in Sodom. The Bible says, “how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).
Second, the godly receive God’s mercy. As God rescued Lot from Sodom, He “knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Pt. 2:9). For those who love and trust Him, no matter how undeserving they are, God will do everything necessary to spare them from judgement. Believers can look forward to the inheritance of heaven (1 Pt. 1:4-5).
Third, our choices have consequences. Lot was a believer who wouldn’t separate from the sinful world (2 Pt. 2:7-8). He was a backslider who adjusted to the evils of Sodom and compromised his morals. Even his sons in law didn’t believe him. Consequently, he lost his wife, his sons-in-law, his friends, and his possessions.
Fourth, God answers our prayers. Abram was a believer who prayed for Lot. God answered this prayer by rescuing Lot before the city was destroyed. Do we pray for others? Do we realize that Jesus intercedes (prays) for us (Heb. 7:25)?
Fifth, God has revealed Himself to humanity. Abraham learnt about what God was like because God choose to reveal Himself to Abraham. We might have some ideas about what God is like, but the only way we can truly know Him is if He reveals Himself to us. Only in the Bible can we find out what God is really like.
Don’t be like Lot’s sons-in-law and his wife who didn’t escape from Sodom. Lot’s sons-in-law didn’t believe that were accountable to God. And Lot’s wife was too attached to the sinful world.
Lot did escape from Sodom although he was reluctant. Don’t leave it too late to trust in God’s salvation through Jesus.
Let’s be like Abraham and pray for our communities, because God answers our prayers.
Appendix: How was Sodom destroyed?
It is clear that the Biblical account of Sodom in Genesis is derived from sources that pre-date the destruction of Sodom. It says that “the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah)” (Gen. 13:10). At that time the valley was fertile and supported a large population. But after the disaster, it became a barren place.
The Bible says, “Then the Lord rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah” (Gen 19:24NLT). And Moses “looked out across the plain toward Sodom and Gomorrah and watched as columns of smoke rose from the cities like smoke from a furnace” (Gen. 19:28NLT).
As Sodom was located near the Dead Sea in the Jordan Rift Valley, it may have been destroyed by an earthquake that unleashed showers of streaming tar. The Bible says that at that time the Dead Sea Valley “was full of tar pits” (Gen. 14:10). This bitumen contains a high percentage of sulfur. It has been suggested that pressure from an earthquake could have caused the bitumen deposits to be forced out of the earth through a fault line. As it gushed out of the earth it could have been ignited by a spark or surface fire. It would then fall to Earth as a burning, fiery mass.
Written, March 2018
Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Massacres and miracles in Jericho
Rebellion and deception at Samaria
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice
Worshipping God and idols at Bethel
Many battles at Megiddo
Where is God when disaster strikes?
Living under the curse & outside the garden
The 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the north-east coast of Japan, left more than 28,000 people dead or missing and knocked out the Fukushima nuclear plant’s cooling system. The reactor’s sea-wall, designed to withstand a 5.5 metre (18 feet) wave, was breached by a surge estimated to be 14 metre (46 feet) high.
Such devastating natural disasters change people’s lives forever. They are dreadful catastrophes which wreak destruction, and tragedies which overwhelm people with great distress and can cause a high death toll. People ask where is God when innocent people suffer and die? How can He allow such calamities to happen? Doesn’t He love people?
Disasters in the Old Testament
Many natural disasters are mentioned in the Old Testament. Most were God’s instrument of punishment. The Bible says that they were God’s judgment against sin. For example, the global flood was God’s judgement of the great wickedness on the earth and the people who rejected Noah’s preaching and continued in their sinful ways (Gen. 6:3-5). God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness; there were fewer than ten righteous people in Sodom (Gen. 18:32).
God brought disastrous plagues on the Egyptians because they persecuted the Jews (Ex. 7:14 – 11:29). Once they escaped, if the Jews didn’t obey the law, God promised disasters (Deut. 28:61). This would be God’s punishment for their idolatry (Deut. 29:16-29; Jos. 24:20); the prophet Jeremiah confirmed this (Jer. 44:1-23). It was a disaster when the Jews were defeated, scattered and captured by the Babylonians. God also promised disasters on many ungodly nations (Jer. 46:21; 49:8, 32; 51:2, 64). And famines occurred, including the 7-year famine when Joseph was in Egypt (Gen. 41:53-57; 47:13-25).
Disasters in the New Testament
Disasters also occurred in the New Testament. There were earthquakes when Christ died, when He came back to life and when Paul and Silas were in prison.
In ancient times it was believed that disasters fell only on those who were extremely sinful. But Jesus taught otherwise when He mentioned “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish’” (Lk. 13:4-5). The answer was not that they deserved punishment more that the others, as suffering is not directly proportional to sin. Disasters happen to us all. All are sinners who must turn to God or perish in hell. The massacre of the Galileans who had come to Jerusalem to worship and the collapse of the tower weren’t God’s judgement on their sinfulness; they were warnings to all that unless they repented of their sin, they were doomed to eternal punishment in hell. Disasters are not necessarily God’s judgement, but they are warnings of His coming judgement unless we get right with God.
Jesus also said that the weather doesn’t discriminate between good and bad people. When He taught the disciples to love their enemies He said that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45). The lesson was that God shows His love to people without distinction.
Revelation talks about the horrible disasters that will make life on earth miserable during the coming Great Tribulation (Rev. Chapters 6; 8-18). The Bible says that they will be God’s judgement on the sin of humanity.
Disasters follow sin
After God created the universe, the Bible says “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). There were no disasters and no suffering or pain in the original creation. But after Adam and Eve sinned, God told Adam: “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:17-19). A radical change took place: God’s good creation was placed under a curse. Weeds grew, and nature was out of balance. Adam had to work for food. Death was introduced. Animals and people aged and died. Because of this curse we have disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, bushfires, and droughts today. The world is full of natural disasters because sin has polluted our once-perfect world. That’s not what God planned, but it is a consequence of our rebellion and sinfulness.
Paul described it like this: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:18-23). Here there are more signs of the curse: all creation is under “bondage to decay” and it is groaning and suffering like a woman in childbirth. The scope is “the whole creation” so it affects Christians and the rest of God’s creation.
When people say, “how could a loving God create such a world?” they show their ignorance of history. God didn’t create it that way! We are reaping what Adam and Eve sowed. Life is a struggle for all creation and there is much suffering because we live in a fallen world. It is not what God intended. Disasters are part of the trouble that is inevitable in the sinful world (Jn. 16:33).
God’s response to disasters
What has God done about disasters? He has done something about the sin, suffering and death in our world. He sent Jesus, so that we can have eternal life without these things (Rom. 6:23).
The big picture is visualized in the diagram. God created a perfect world where there were no disasters because there was no sin. This world was changed and spoiled when humanity sinned. We now live under the curse and outside the Garden where there are all kinds of disasters. We live between the fall and the restoration. But God sent His Son to take the punishment for sin by dying for us. Those who accept His rescue plan become part of His new creation where there will be no disasters because there will be no sin. As long as there is sin, there is the curse and there are disasters.
Why does God allow disasters and suffering, when He has promised a new creation without disasters or suffering? Peter wrote, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:8-9). Why the delay? What seems a long time to us is not a long time to God. Because He desires everyone to repent and enjoy the new creation, God has delayed judgment. He is being patient. During this time, we can avoid God’s judgment by confessing our sins and turning to Him, realizing that Jesus has already taken our punishment.
Meanwhile we Christians wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies and look forward to the Lord’s coming reign over the earth (Rom. 8:19, 23). When He returns to set up His kingdom, creation will be released from the curse and will be “very good” once again. The Garden will be restored, the curse will be abolished and there will be no more suffering and disasters (Acts 3:21; Rev. 22:3).
What about Romans 8:28?
Romans 8:28 is set in the context of things to help us through difficult times, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”. This verse is addressed to believers. God’s purpose, given in the next verse, is to conform us “to the image of His Son”. God wants to make us like Jesus Christ, so we share His character. He wants our lives transformed (2 Cor. 3:18). Everything has this purpose, including disasters, suffering and tragedy. Disasters provide opportunities to grow in our divine nature and become more Christ-like (Eph.4:22-24).
But it can be difficult to balance the physical and spiritual aspects of life. Paul said that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Here we see that the blessings that are promised to believers are spiritual, not physical. Although disasters, suffering and tragedy might destroy our physical possessions, they don’t take away our spiritual blessings. God gives us what we need, not what we want. After all, Jesus died to save our spirit and soul, not our body. Of course, at the resurrection He gives us new bodies. We know God loves us, not because of how our lives go, but because of Christ’s death at Calvary.
Are disasters a sign of the end times?
When Jesus was asked about the supernatural events (or signs) that would precede His second coming to the earth, He described events that will occur in the time of Tribulation after the Rapture. Some of these events “will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Mt. 24:7b-8; Mk. 13:8; Lk. 21:11). They are not precursors to the Tribulation, but evidence of its presence. These earthquakes are also predicted in Revelation, culminating in devastating earthquakes in Jerusalem (Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18). As the supernatural events associated with these earthquakes have not yet occurred, these earthquakes are future events.
So, although future earthquakes will be a sign of the end times, I am not aware of a Biblical passage that says that current disasters are a sign of the end times. Of course some people believe that we live in the end times and the Bible says that we need to be expecting the rapture at any moment. Also, we need to realise that no matter when we live, God can call us at a moment’s notice. How do we know that we’ll even be alive tomorrow morning (Lk. 12:16-20)? Our life could end suddenly like the rich fool.
Dealing with disasters
We all will face disasters of some kind, and death sooner or later. The Bible says, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Jesus said, unless we repent and turn to God, we will perish in hell. Like in First Aid, we need to look after ourselves before we can help others. Are we ready to face disasters and death? It is presumptuous for us to refer to any disaster as God’s judgment upon this earth. We can’t say this with certainty because God hasn’t told us. When Peter wrote about the end times, which are characterized by disasters, he advised us to keep praying, help the needy, and use our gifts to serve others (1 Pt. 4:7-11). Disasters provide opportunities to help, bring comfort and relief, and pray.
God is with us in disasters
When the Jews faced disasters in the Old Testament times, God said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Is. 43:2). David said, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). David was writing about the valley of the shadow of death–a time of great fear like a disaster, a tragedy, or a crisis. But when he realized that God was with him, he is comforted. Disasters don’t separate believers from God (Rom. 8:35-39). Nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).
The worst is the best
Paul said that “the sting of death is sin” that is unconfessed and unforgiven (1 Cor. 15:56). Because the Lord has forgiven the sins of believers, the sting of death has been removed. That’s how to be ready to face disasters and death. Instead, for the believer, death is the beginning of eternal life. If we know that our sins are forgiven, we can face death with confidence. Like David, we know that God is with us through disasters and “the valley of death”. Death actually ushers us into God’s presence, which is the best thing that can happen! Paul said “to die is gain” because it means we’ll with Jesus (Phil. 1:21). But for unbelievers death is the beginning of eternal punishment and this is terrible. But God is giving plenty of time for people to turn to Him (2 Pt. 3:9).
Lessons for us
We have seen that disasters are a consequence of our sinful world and God is delaying the coming judgement and the perfect world without sin and suffering because He doesn’t want anyone to perish in hell, but everyone to repent so they can go to heaven.
Today disasters are God’s warnings of His coming judgment. They remind us of our need to be right with Him. They remind us that life can be taken away in an instant and there may never be a tomorrow. James warns: “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (Jas. 4:14). We live in an uncertain world. Disaster and tragedy could strike us at any time. Everything that happens, including disasters, is to bring us to Christ, and make us more like Him. Do we have a right relationship with Him? Live every day as if it will be your last. Those going to sacrifice in Jerusalem didn’t know that would be their last day; those working on the tower of Siloam didn’t know that would be their last day. Likewise, we don’t know if today will be our last. One day that will be true for each of us.
So where is God when disaster strikes? As usual, He is on the throne of the universe, ruling all creation, loving us and caring for us and preparing us for eternity.
Written, April 2011
Also see: Please explain Romans 8:28 in light as such disasters as the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and Japan in 2011?
How to overcome anxiety