In light of the recent hurricanes and earthquakes in the region, many persons have questions about how we, as Christians should respond.
1. Why does God allow these kinds of disasters to take place? Are people in affected countries/regions being punished for something?
I strongly disagree with the theory that natural disasters are God’s way of punishing people for their sinful lifestyle. In the Old Testament, there are instances where God used nature to punish people for their sin e.g. the great flood in Genesis 7, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. However, under the New Covenant, Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for the sins of the world by His death on the cross according to Isaiah 53:5. It would be against the character of a just God to punish people for the sins for which Jesus has already paid with His life.
I believe that the disasters that are happening worldwide are a result of sin in the world. In the beginning the world God made was perfect, but after sin entered the world, the destruction and decay began, not just of human lives, but of every aspect of creation. Global warming and deforestation are examples of how the sin of greed has contributed to the proliferation of hurricanes and landslides worldwide. According to one of my friends, “Man has to take responsibility and stop blaming God for us being poor stewards of the planet”.
2. Are all these disasters a sign that Jesus is going to return soon?
In Matthew 24 earthquakes and wars are listed as signs of the end times, but there is no need to panic. These signs were evident before 2017, and as Christians we should be living our lives as though Jesus could return at any time. We should not wait for another natural disaster to “get our house in order” or to tell our unsaved family and friends about Jesus – this should be a part of our daily lifestyle as believers.
3. My friend/family member in one of the affected countries lost everything they have, I feel ill-equipped to say anything but I feel like I should encourage them, what can I say without coming across as being cliché or trite?
Many times when people suffer disasters we feel the need to “say something” to make them feel better. But for many of those people who are suffering, they already know the things you are going to say. What they need more than your assurance that “God will not give you more than you can bear” (which, by the way, is not scriptural) is to know that they are not alone. Job’s friends’ initial response when he lost everything is often what is most needed – people who would come alongside them in their time of suffering and just be there (Job 2:11-13). If you cannot physically be there, you can use Scripture that reminds them of God’s presence, comfort and love like Deuteronomy 33:12. Verses like these help to take the person’s eyes off of their situation, which can be very depressing, and place it on the One who is fully able to take them through it (Psalm 42:11).
4. What should I be praying for when I pray for persons in the affected countries?
Apart from being able to access food, water and medication to meet their physical needs, these persons have suffered immense emotional and psychological trauma as their entire lives have been turned upside down. Pray for God to supply all their needs according to His riches in glory. Pray for comfort and peace for those who have lost loved ones. Pray for hope and for new opportunities for those whose source of income has been destroyed. Pray for wisdom and equity for those responsible for distributing aid to those affected. Pray for endurance and renewal of strength for those who have been working tirelessly to bring relief to those in need. Pray for peace and order among those who may be tempted to engage in lawless behavior out of desperation. Pray for direction and strategies for those in charge as they develop medium and long-term strategies to guide the recovery process. Pray that people who do not know Jesus would recognize the uncertainty of life, and seek to surrender their lives to Him while they still have breath.
5. I’ve been praying for the affected countries but what are some of the actions I can take to help?
There are local organisations that have been working hard to co-ordinate sending relief supplies to countries which have been devastated by the recent hurricanes. You can organize a drive in your workplace/school/community to collect some of the items needed e.g. toiletries, baby supplies, over the counter medication and deliver to these organisations. You can also help by giving of your time to help these organisations sort and pack the donations they receive, or by providing a meal for the volunteers if you have time constraints. There is also a need for cash donations which help cover the cost of delivering the relief items to affected persons once they arrive in the country. Finally, there will be a need for skilled professionals as the islands begin the rebuilding process. Consider using your vacation/taking no-pay leave to volunteer your services in the construction or medical field once access to these islands has been restored.
Is There Not a Cause, started collecting donations ahead of the news of Hurricane Irma’s devastation in the Leeward Islands and have now extended the collections for Dominica. They are collecting non-perishable food items, baby supplies, water, over the counter medication and bedding. Donations can be dropped off at 6A Anderson Street or call 394-2042 or 485-0377. Volunteers are needed to help sorting and packing donations every day from 8am to 8pm. Financial donations can be made at Republic Bank account #510009446802, First Citizens bank account #1660410 or online at https://www.youcaring.com/itnacistherenotacause-943538
6. I’ve seen where some believers were spared serious damage but other believers have been left with nothing and I’m not sure anymore what difference serving God or not makes in disasters so why should I keep serving God?
Being a Christian does not make you immune to suffering. As a matter of fact, Jesus warned His disciples that we will experience trouble in this world (John 14:27). Our motivation for serving God should not be based on His blessings, but on our love for Him for providing a way of escape from suffering the penalty for our sin (1 John 4:19). God’s character does not change, even when our circumstances do, so He remains worthy of our worship even in difficult times (Job 1:20-22).
7. Since God is sovereign, if we see a storm brewing, does it make sense to pray that it goes away? Are disasters just an inevitable part of God’s plan? When a storm spares one country but hits another does it mean that God loves the spared country more or that they “prayed harder”?
We have evidence in Scripture that God is able to calm the winds and the storms (Luke 8:23-25). God is able to intervene in the face of any impending disaster, or He may choose not to. Since most times we do not know in advance what He would do, we pray, trusting that He is a God who hears and answers prayer, and He can choose to intervene in response to our prayers (Philippians 4:6-7). Hurricane Irma was on track to hit Haiti directly, but it diverted north at the last minute, sparing the country loss of life and property. Would this have happened if we had not been interceding on their behalf? I cannot say for sure, but it is better to petition the throne of grace than to assume that our prayers will have no effect (James 5:16). Those who have spared disaster are not any more righteous that those who hit, as Jesus pointed out in Luke 13:1-5. God’s plans span eternity, and it is difficult for us to comprehend why He allows disaster, but we can be assured that His love for us never changes (Romans 8:35-39)
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