Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Making Sense of Tsunami (A Christian perspective on Tsunami and Earthquake)

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by Dr. Woodrow Kroll

Cover Page of the magazine
                   
Introduction:

It was a clear beautiful day that the tsunami hit.  No one expected it.  The skies were beautiful; the ocean waves were calm.  Then suddenly and without warning, perhaps the greatest disaster of our time struck.

A tsunami is a series of ocean tidal waves created by disturbances in the earth’s crust.  On 26th December, 2004, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean west of Sumatra created the giant tidal wave that took so many thousands of lives.  And the recent one 11th March 2011 at Japan a 8.9 magnitude earthquake also took many thousands of lives.

Such catastrophic events not only create great loss of life, pain and sorrow, they create many questions.  Perhaps you have questions about why the tsunami came or why God would permit such a disaster.  Your questions are good.  It is not wrong to ask questions of God as long as our questions are not accusatory.  A sovereign God need not answer our questions; a gracious God often does.

In this series of articles we will ask six questions you probably have asked yourself already.  We will offer answers to those questions from the Bible.  Whether you accept the answer or not will depend on whether you accept what is written in the Bible as God’s Holy Word.  If you do, it is comforting to know that God has not been silent.  He has addressed your questions.

1. What Caused The Tsunami?

Tsunamis are caused by earthquakes on the ocean’s floor.  When the tectonic plates that makes up the earth’s surface shift, the result is an earthquake.  The violent movement of the earth in turn pushes the water on the surface of the ocean in all directions.  The speed of the waves is controlled by the depth of the ocean floor.   The tsunami of the day after Christmas traveled at approximately 500 mph.  when the wave approached the coastline and the ocean floor rose sharply to the level of the water, the speed of the wave on top the water slowed.  The energy behind the wave, however, was constant and caused the wave to rise to a heap.   It was this wall of water sometimes 60 feet high that slammed into the coastline and destroyed everything in its path.

But the real question is how could this happen?  What caused the earth’s floor to shift producing the 9.0 earthquake?  Was this the work of God?
The answer is no.  God did not push the waters toward the coastline knowing that thousand of people would lose their lives.  The wave was not the work of His almighty hand.  The earth God created would not have produced such destruction.

God’s Earth Was Very Good

At the end of His six days of creation (Genesis 1:31), God surveyed all He had made and proclaimed it “very good.”  The Hebrew terminology used indicates God’s creation was both complete and perfect.  The rivers were running between their banks.  The earth was stable and beautiful.  The waters of the ocean were gently lapping the seashore.  Psalm 33:6-7 say, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.  He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deep in storehouses.”  The oceans God created were gathered together in peaceful storehouse in the deep.

Job poetically describes God’s creation saying, “He drew a circular horizon on the face of the waters” (Job 26:10).  The Lord “shut in the sea with doors” (Job 38:8).  Violent earthquakes and tsunamis were never a part of God’s original creation.  Adam and Eve lived happily in an idyllic paradise and they shared such an intimate relationship with their maker that God came to the garden “in the cool of the day” just to spend time with them (Genesis 3:8).

But the peacefulness and tranquility of Eden were soon shattered.  Genesis 3 – in fewer words than an anchorman on the TV news reports the lead story describes how the first human disobeyed God and sin entered our world (Genesis 3:1-6).  The Bible also describes the curse(s) on the earth that resulted from that sin-including pain and death (Genesis 3:14-24).  Whereas our first parent lived on earth with no potential for disaster, we now live on earth that is cursed, a disaster just waiting to happen.

The Groaning Earth

The apostle Paul, in Romans 8:19-22, described the entire creation as subjected to the corruption that resulted from the sinful event in Eden.  Here’s what he said.  “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility… because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”  This groaning began the day sin entered our world, but something soon happened that made the groaning even worse.

The good earth deteriorated rapidly after that initial sin as did mankind’s relationship with God.  Just three chapters later, Moses wrote:

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth and He was grieved in His heart.  So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air (Genesis 6:5-7).

Genesis 6-8 records a great global destruction of the earth resulting from the Great Flood.  This was God’s judgment on our corrupt earth.  The Bible indicates that the waters which caused the Flood came from two sources:  (a) the fountains of the great deep; and (b) the windows of heaven (Genesis 7:11).

The recent tsunami proves the destructive power of moving water.  Put that into perspective.  Imagine the devastation that must have been created when all the forces of the earth worked together in the Great Flood.  Rain dropped from the canopy above the firmament.  Earthquakes shook the earth.  Volcanoes erupted around the planet.  The tectonic plates of the earth’s crust shifted under the weight of the water.  Mountains lifted yup.  Canyons were pressed into the ground. Tornadoes hurricanes and multiple tsunamis were spun into existence.  Havoc reigned in God’s creation.

Changed Conditions on the Earth

Prior to the great Flood our world was a much different place than it is today.  Numerous biblical scholars have suggested that in those days the Earth was devoid of natural disasters like the tsunami.

John C Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris suggest:
This is inferred from the fact that the “breaking-up of the fountains of the great deep” (Genesis 7:11), which implies this sort activity, was one of the immediate causes of the Deluge; therefore it must have been restrained previously… Thus the Biblical record implies that the age between the fall of man and the resultant Deluge was one of comparative quiescence geologically.  The waters both above and below the firmament were in large measure restrained, temperatures were equably warm, there were no heavy rains nor winds and probably no earthquakes nor volcanic emissions.*1

It is not unreasonable to suggest that the global flood of Genesis 6-8 not only radically altered the face of the Earth, but also created the conditions on earth that are responsible for many natural disasters experienced since that time, including the  recent tsunamis.

Why does the Earth experience natural disasters?  Not because God created a world in which natural disasters are natural.  Natural disasters are not natural to God.  God put the laws of nature into place but sin put natural disasters in place.  Insurance companies often label things as an “act of God,” but God had nothing to do with it.
Today we inhabit a once-perfect but now-flawed Earth.  Today, because of Adam’s sin, earthquakes produce tsunamis which produce deadly devastation.  That wasn’t true with the earth God created. *2


2.  Is God To Blame For The Tsunami?

Since God created a world that was “very good” but sin brought evil into it, the corruption and curse that resulted are to blame for the tsunami, not God.  Still, many people blame God.  Is this justifiable?

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner wrote a book entitled When Band Things Happen to Good People.  In it the Rabbi said, “Virtually every meaningful conversation I have ever had with people on the subject of God and religion has either started with the question, Why do bad things happen to good people? , or has gotten to it before long. *3

The Real Source of Evil
Let me say one thing very clearly.  You cannot blame God for evil.  The primary source of bad things like the tsunami is the emperor of evil, Satan himself.  It was his pride that initiated evil.  Lucifer was one of God’s trusted angels, but he thirsted for more.  You can read about that pride and the sin that resulted in Isaiah 14.  Satan wasn’t content with loving and serving a good God, he wanted to be God himself.  But by his rebellion Lucifer destroyed himself and introduced evil into the world.  Satan is the primary cause of evil in our world today.

But there’s a secondary cause and this may surprise you.  The secondary cause of evil is men and women.  When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, he joined Satan’s rebellion against God.  As a direct descendant of Adam and Eve, you and I were born sinful, born with a wicked heart and a bent toward evil

If you don’t believe that’s true, look around you.  Do you think rape, murder, class oppression, child abuse or political and business corruption is just passing fads?  Evil permeates our universe; it always has.  You don’t have to teach a child how to lie or cheat or steal.  It’s natural.  Evil is here because we brought it with us into the world.

God Will One Day Destroy Evil
Terrible things like the tsunami will happen until God destroys the evil of this world and creates a new heaven and a new earth.  You can read about that in the last two chapters of the last book of the Bible.  But for now, be encouraged.  You can be delivered from the consequences of evil, which is death, by believing that the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary’s cross paid the penalty for your sin.

Is God to blame for the tsunami?  No.  The tsunami occurred because our world is cursed, it is decaying, it is ready for renewal and aches for the day God will make a new heaven and a new earth.  The tsunami was a natural consequence of the rebellion of satan and the sinfulness of the human heart.

Natural disasters can and will happen again.  Evil is here to say for now, but with a new heart, it won’t ruin your life.  Jesus came to change all that, and He can change it in your life today, if you ask Him


3.  Was This Disaster The Judgment Of God?

Most people view disasters in one of two ways. Either they believe God caused them or the believe God was helpless to prevent them.  Those who believe God caused the disaster frequently view events like the tsunamis happened in December 2004 and the March 2011 as the judgment of God.  Those who believe God was powerless to stop the tidal wave ask, “Where was God when the disaster occurred?”

But there is a third way to view disasters in our world. I believe it’s the biblical way.  The tsunami was not caused by God.  He had nothing to do with it.  In a sinful world, disasters happen.  God could step in and prevent every disaster but He doesn’t.  instead, He does something better.  He provides salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.  He promises that death is not the end.  He brings hope for resurrection to those who have died and comfort to all who are alive and remain.  All of this will be discussed later.

Judgment and Natural Disasters
Is it possible the terrible tsunami is the judgment of God on Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India Japan and other nations bordering the Oceans?   Hasn’t God used natural disasters before to judge His people?
Indeed He has.
The great flood in Noah’s day was the judgment of God on the entire world because of its sinfulness (Genesis 6-9).
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone was the judgment of God on the sinful practices of those cities (Genesis 19).

Their lack of faith in Jesus after they heard so much of His teaching and saw so many of His miracles was the cause of God’s judgment on the cities of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matthew 11:20=24_.

The God of all creation can use His creation to bring judgment on people when He so chooses, but we should not see every natural event as the judgment of God.

Natural Disasters and No Judgment
Jonah was cast into the sea in great storm as God’s judgment on the prophet (Jonah 1:15).  Paul was cast into the sea in a great storm but it was not God’s judgment on the apostle (Acts 27:41).  In Numbers 12, Miriam, the sister of Moses, became leprous as a demonstration of God’s judgment.  But in Exodus 4, Moses’ hand became leprous as a demonstration of God’s power.

The Bible passages indicate that we should never presume to know the intention of God when He permits natural events, unless clearly revealed in His Word.  Jesus spoke of a natural disaster which occurred during His time, the falling of the tower in Siloam that killed eighteen people (Luke 13:1-5).  We cannot know the reason for such tragedies but nonetheless they do serve to cause us to ponder our sin and repent lest we likewise perish.

Most often when God wishes to judge a nation or a people, His judgment falls on that nation alone.  Other nations are not affected.  The Babylonian Captivity was God’s Judgment on His sinful people.  They were carried into captivity in order that God may reprove them, refine them, purify them, and yes, to punish them (2 Chronicles 36).  The prophet Obadiah prophesied God’s judgment on the nation Edom, but Israel was not affected by this judgment.  Nahum prophesied God’s judgment on the Ninevites, but other nations were not affected.

Rarely do we see the judgment of God on multiple nations as a result of one natural disaster, such as the great flood.  God deals in specifics, not in generalities.  The great tsunami of 26th December 2004 and 11th March 2011 does not fit the biblical pattern of God’s judgment.

4. How Can God Be Good And Allow This To Happen ?

If it is true that tsunamis, floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters happen because the earth groans under the curse of sin, that means God did not cause the tsunami and it was not His judgment on the nations affected.

But could God not have prevented this disaster?  The prophet Nahum notes that “the Lord has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm” (Nahum 1:3).  Why did God not prevent the tidal wave even if He didn’t cause it?  Can God still be good and kind even if He did nothing to prevent this natural disaster?

The answer is yes.  God’s character was the same the day before the tsunami as it was the day after.  The character of God cannot change.  “I am the Lord, I do not change”  (Malachi 3:6).  In fact, not only does the character of God not change, it cannot change.  If God’s character could change, would it change for the better or for the worse?  If it changed for the better, He isn’t fully God now.  If it changed for the worse, He couldn’t be fully God then.

God is Good All the Time

The Bible teaches that God is good and all He does is good.  The Psalms especially point us to the goodness and benevolence of God.

Psalm 25:8, “Good and upright is the Lord.”  Psalm 34:8 bids us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  When he was in trouble David said to God,  “I will wait on Your name, for it is good”  (Psalm 52:9).  And another time when his life was threatened David said, “I will praise  Your name, O Lord, for it is good”  (Psalm 54:6).

Asaph begins Psalm 73 with the words, “Truly God is good.”  “You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You”  (Psalm 86:5).

Psalm 100 is a great hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God.  It bids us to “enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.  Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.  For the Lord is good:  His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations”  (Psalm 100:4-5)

Psalm 106 continues that theme:  “Praise the Lord!  Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!”  Similar words can be found in Psalm 118:1,29;  135:3; 136:1; 145:9; 147:1).

So we must distinguish between the good character of God, which never changes, and the evil things that happen in this world, which God did not cause.

Natural Laws

When God created our world it operated under the natural laws He established at the time of creation.  There were natural laws in force in the Garden of Eden.  For example, if Adam jumped off a cliff hoping to land in a pool of water below, he was not disappointed.   The law of gravity made sure he made it to the pool.  If Eve wandered into the path of a charging elephant, she had to jump out of the way since two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  Those are the laws of nature.

The same laws of nature that produce good for us, however, can also produce great tragedy, as in the case of the tsunami.  In addressing this point, Norman Geisler noted:

“In a physical world where there is water for boating and swimming, some will drown.  If there are mountains to climb, there must also be valleys into which one may fall.  If there are cars to drive, collisions can also occur.  It may be said that tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are likewise byproducts  of a good physical world.  for instance, the purpose of rain is not to flood or drown, but the result of rain may include these disasters”. * 4

God’s world was a world of order.  The natural laws that God created were for our good because God’s character is good.  Natural laws allow us to produce fir, but the same laws that enable us to cook our food also allow us to destroy entire forests.  When a fire ravages a forest or a flood destroys homes, does that change the goodness of God?  Of course not.  God’s character is not changed by the misuse of His creation.

The Tsunami and Natural Laws
The tectonic plate on which the Australian continent rides has been pushing north at seven centimeters each year.  Near Sumatra the plate is forced down and underneath another carrying the European and Asian continents…. It was a natural occurrence in a world that is groaning, shifting, and waiting for redemption (Romans 8: 19-22).

Psalm 145:8-9 say,  “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion  slow to anger and great in mercy.  The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.”  The earthquake that produced the tsunami was not caused by the good character of God.  It was caused by natural forces that govern a world cursed with sin and feeling the effects of that curse all the time.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, even death do not remove God’s goodness, they only prove the presence of sin and the curse on our planet.  God’s goodness is evident in life spared, not life taken.

You can trust God to be good all the time, because God’s character is good and His character does not change, even when there is a killer tsunami.  End
—to be continued in the next issue.


In the next issue we will be dealing the following topics:

1.  Is There Any Hope Now?

2.  How Can I Face The Future?
 3.  Promises, Not Questions.

4.  God's Promises To You.
  

NOTES:

  1. A.M. Rehwinkel, The Flood (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1951): Joseph C Dillow, The Waters Above (Chicago Moody, 1982).
    2.  John C Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Grand Rapids, MI:
         Baker, 1961).  Pp 242-243

   3.  Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York:
        Schocken Books, 1981), P.6.

   4.  Normal L. Geisler, The Roots of Evil (Grand Rapids MI:  Zondervan, 1978),  p.72.

Source:

Picture Credit: Indiasummary.com

Dr. Kroll's Photo. backtothebible.org
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