Are natural disasters God’s direct judgment for the sins of specific people in specific places? Almost certainly not. But every time we see the destruction of something such as a hurricane or tornado many of us are tempted to ask “isn’t this the direct work of God’s hand due to man’s sinfulness?” I remember there were especially loud roars concerning this after Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans in 2005 and the devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010. But this question arises every year as new disasters hit.
The Bible definitely details cases where we are told that God decreed a natural disaster (or war) as judgment for sin? Bit in each case God told a prophet beforehand what was coming and whether or not and how the judgment could be avoided. The OT is full of such examples. Some, such as the flood in Noah’s time, were unavoidable by the time the pronouncement was made and others, such as the destruction of Nineveh, were avoided because the people repented after the prophet, Jonah, (finally) warned them.
And that is the key. In the Old Testament book of Amos, God tells the prophet that He can and will bring disaster and that when He calls for it, people will know to be afraid. But God also says that He does nothing such as this without revealing it to His prophets first.
Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. Amos 3: 6 – 7 [ESV]
But, of course, the Apostle Paul tells us that this type of prophetic activity would stop.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. I Corinthians 13: 8 [ESV]
As promised in this verse, today God no longer reveals information such as this through prophets who are to relay the message to others (based on the context of the verse in I Corinthians 13, most believe this stopped once the Bible had been completed). Therefore, it is extremely presumptuous, actually downright arrogant, to think that I can say when God is judging who and why.
The last clear case of someone speaking or prophesying on God’s behalf to warn of a judgment against a certain people at a certain place was probably found in Matthew chapter 24. Here Jesus warned about the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. The sin being punished was Jesus’ own people rejected Him as the Messiah. The words Jesus used in Matthew 24: 30 “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” [ESV] was Jewish apocalyptic language (Old Testament prophets spoke in this way often) meant to tell us that God would be directly controlling the judgment in this case. Of course, to make His prophecy valid, Jesus also put it within a timeframe (in Matthew 24: 34) – this destruction would happen before the generation listening to him had passed away. As predicted, the Temple and the city were destroyed in a siege by the Roman army starting in 66 AD and ending in 70 AD (three to four decades after Jesus made the prophecy – or within a generation!).
There are very general prophecies in Revelation about failed forms of government, corrupt economic systems and false religions being judged and destroyed by God at the end of time. And Peter provides a generic warning that the world will be destroyed by fire in the end (II Peter 3: 7 & 10). But we no longer receive direct revelation about specific judging and punishment on certain people or locations.
So, if there is no biblical foundation to believe that natural disasters are God’s direct punishment, what is the explanation for them? All the pain, destruction and evil we see, including natural disasters, are a result of sin’s curse on the world. The Garden of Eden was lost and will not be recaptured until Christ’s return. And honestly, I think the randomness and chaos of the way disasters hit is very much a part of that curse.
Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.