Many well-meaning people, even believers, have done God a grave disservice by trying to explain away or deny God's involvement in so-called natural disasters. Whether God is judging individuals or nations in any individual case we must leave in His sovereign, omnipotent hands. But to deny that He governs all things according to His divine will is both foolish and unscriptural, and those who do so paint a distorted picture of the Holy God and perpetrate a lie that leaves man complacent in his sin. One of the unchanging truths of Scripture is that God is never ashamed to acknowledge His work - whether it be blessing or cursing. Sentimental humans may feel compelled to apologize for God's handiwork, but He does not. The situation of Israel in a time of drought during the ministry of the prophet Jeremiah illustrates well these truths.
We read concerning Judah’s “nobles” that they “sent their little ones to the waters: they came to the pits, and found no water; they returned with their vessels empty” (Jer. 14:3). We might be inclined to think how terrible it was that little children were left without water—and rightly so. It is a terrible thing. But God had more significant things on His heart than temporal human suffering: “Thus saith the Lord unto this people, Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, therefore the Lord doth not accept them; he will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sin” (v. 10). So far from apologizing for the drought and alleviating their plight, God announces that He has authored their dire circumstances and that He has done so in response to their rebellion. Consciously, deliberately, repeatedly, they have wandered away from His commandments; as their holy Judge, God has determined that it is time to “visit their sins” with this natural calamity.
Then the Lord warns Jeremiah, who is known as the “weeping prophet” because of his great compassion and earnest intercession for his nation, “Pray not for this people for their good” (v. 11). There comes a time in the lives of individuals and nations when God ceases to strive with them. “When they fast, I will not hear their cry [because it is hypocritical]; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence” (v. 12). God is emphatic; He advises Jeremiah that “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth” (15:1).
God prepares Jeremiah to give a godly response to the people in the throes of their distress: “And it shall come to pass, if they say unto thee, Whither shall we go forth? Then thou shalt tell them, Thus saith the Lord; Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as for the captivity, to the captivity. And I will appoint over them four kinds, saith the Lord: the sword to slay, and the dogs to tear, and the fowls of the heaven, and beasts of the earth, to devour and destroy” (15:2, 3).
The truth is that God is a holy, righteous Judge, who, though merciful and longsuffering, visits judgment on rebels who will not hear Him and turn from their sin. In Judah’s case, all that God predicted did come to pass on the nation. And though problems befell the righteous along with the sinners, God was gracious to the righteous, preserving and blessing men like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego even in captivity.
The purpose of these paragraphs is not to encourage hard-heartedness or a judgmental spirit toward those engulfed in great natural disasters. It is intended to be a corrective, however, to the sentimental dismissal of God’s sovereign hand in the affairs of men. All that occurs is under His divine governance, and a believer seriously errs to explain away God’s work. We are remiss if we emphasize God’s love and mercy to the exclusion of His holiness and justice. His Word does not do so. We could multiply many times over examples from Scripture of God’s judgment at work in the lives of individuals and nations. And while it is our Christian duty to be kind and do good wherever opportunity affords, we need not apologize for or explain away God’s work even when it is severe. Nor should we feel it necessary to define that work as judgment. The “whys” and “wherefores” are in His sovereign hands. Our testimony should be that of Abraham: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). He always has; He always will. May we be careful that our human sentimentality does not undermine God’s holiness and make light of man’s sin. To do so does a grave injustice to the character of God and the condition of man.
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