Acts of God
During the month of October, the western world was directly confronted with some mighty explosions of "natural forces" which left everyone — those who experienced them or heard of them — breathless and filled with awe.
First there was the fury of Hurricane Hugo which swept across the Caribbean before smashing into the Carolina coast, almost demolishing the quaint city of Charleston. In its woeful wake, Hugo left thousands of people homeless and heartbroken.
Then there was the sudden devastation caused by the massive earthquake in the San Francisco area. This time the world knew instantly that something was dreadfully wrong, for the television cameras were already broadcasting the opening of the third game of baseball's annual classic, the World Series, at Oakland's Candlestick Park.
Now hurricanes are not uncommon in the Caribbean and earthquakes are not unexpected in California. But somehow this time the fury and anger of nature's unleashed forces seemed more ferocious than at other occasions. For example, San Francisco had not experienced such an earthquake since 1906 (6.9 on the Richter scale in 1989 as compared to 8.3 in 1906). We realized all the more how weak and powerless we really are in the face of such catastrophic occurrences. Nothing here is quake-proof.
Many of those who survived these events made similar testimonies: it sounded like the end of the world had come.
Bound to Happen?
People try to comfort themselves with the belief that these "natural" occurrences are bound to happen from time to time. Such events can all be "scientifically" explained. Whenever certain atmospheric or geological conditions are present, one may expect hurricanes and earthquakes. It is as simple as that.
As a matter of fact, Californians are convinced that this last earthquake is only an omen of something worse which is still to come. Have scientists not figured out that because the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate cross in California on what is called the "San Andreas Fault," a major earthquake is bound to happen there every fifty years?
If this is true, the area around San Francisco was long overdue for a major shake-up. The experts immediately warned that this is still not the heavy quake which is expected. "The Big One," really comparable to the 1906 disaster, is still on its way. This is certainly not an exciting prospect for an area which has just seen more than 250 deaths, over 2000 injuries, and almost 10 billion dollars in damages. One must be very courageous to face such a shocking future.
Who is Really Behind It?
Now I am not in the position to speak scientifically about the causes of these "natural" disasters. I will accept it as true that because these occurrences in nature normally follow certain patterns, they are also to a degree predictable and explicable. But this does not answer the underlying question: who is really behind these catastrophic events?
I ask this question because I am afraid that many people — also Christians among them — are inclined to explain these events only in natural terms. We have figured out the causes and can measure the effects, and so easily in our calculations and estimations, God really plays no role.
When we open the Scriptures, however, we find that it is precisely with respect to the unleashed power of nature's forces that the Bible speaks of God's direct involvement. Wind and storm, quake and flood come not by chance but are controlled by His almighty hand and come to us through His government and providence.
Let me give you some examples from Scripture. In Psalm 83, where Asaph pleads with the LORD to deliver His people from the assaults of the enemies round about, we read, "As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountain ablaze, so do Thou pursue them with Thy tempest, and terrify them with Thy hurricane." Forest fires and hurricanes are seen as divinely wrought.
I think also of Psalm 29, where is spoken about the fact that "the voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness..." Or what about the testimony given in Psalm 77, "The crash of Thy thunder was in the whirlwind, Thy lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook." The Book of Psalms undoubtedly teaches us to recognize, admire and fear God's glorious power in the tumultuous forces of nature. In them we are indeed faced with acts of God, as the expression goes.
There can be no unleashing of these forces without the express will and permission of God Who alone rules in sovereign over all creation. And He uses these forces to manifest His omnipotence over all that He has created so that all men might fear before Him and so that especially His people shall worship Him, "…and in His temple all cry: Glory!" (Psalm 29:9)
The question may be asked: why does God cause such great catastrophes to happen with the loss of so many lives and the inflicting of so much suffering? Is this compatible with the teaching of the Bible that "God is love?"
We may never play God's love out against God's justice. All these natural catastrophes are the righteous, temporal judgments of God over the sins of mankind. They are warnings from above that indeed the great day of judgment is drawing near. Californians are closer to the truth than many will admit: "the big one" is yet to come.
We see in these happenings God's footsteps and signposts in His haste to come to the final day of judgment. Our Lord Jesus Christ once spoke about it as follows, "...for nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places..." (Matthew 24:7).
Once when God descended on Mount Sinai, the earth trembled greatly. For when God appears in splendor, the earth shakes! The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of the prophecy of Haggai that God will once more shake heaven and earth (Hebrews 11). And the last book of the Bible speaks in no uncertain terms about "a great earthquake such as had never been seen since men were on earth, so great was that earthquake" (Revelation 16:18). Imagine what destruction will be caused by such a quake!
This reality need not frighten us. For we know that God will also restrain the forces of nature so that life remains livable on earth. The damages caused by hurricanes and earthquakes remain limited. The LORD does this in order that the Church of Christ may be gathered. We read about this in Revelation 7 where the four angels are standing at the four corners of the earth, "holding back the four winds of the earth." The final hurricane will not come until "we have sealed the servants of God upon their foreheads," that is, until the church has been completed.
And when everything undergoes the final shake-up and the very foundations of the present world crumble, we are assured that we receive a "kingdom which cannot be shaken" (Hebrews 11:28). Only the kingdom of God is absolutely quake-proof.
These mighty acts of God, which demonstrate the coming of the Lord in judgment, do affect and disturb us. But let the world be warned and the church be comforted: the day of God's glory and the saints' vindication draws near.