is a tsunami an “act of God”?

Tsunami hitting city

Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;
like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,
like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,
he casts down to the earth with his hand.

Isaiah 28:2

There is a lot of controversy right now about whether or not hell is real.

But there is much less doubt about whether or not tsunamis are.

This raises a couple of questions. Is a tsunami an “act of God,” as the insurance companies tell us? And if so, is his role active or passive?

Assume for a minute that he is passive. Then we want to know why he didn’t prevent the tragedy in Japan. And if he is active, we want to know why he caused it.

We can safely say he cares about it, which makes it harder to argue he is passive about such things. No one wants, or needs, a passive God. And clearly the scripture says he is not:

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
(Psalm 90:5-7 ESV)

Yet even then, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him (Psalm 103:13).

So consider for a moment his active role in all this.

Here are the options:

  • He was judging Japan for some sin we don’t understand.
  • He was teaching us all a lesson we don’t yet understand.
  • He was extending a grace we will never understand.

I’m opting for all of the above.

I’m not saying Japan’s sin is greater than our own. I expect we are as materialistic and unbelieving as they are. Who knows when we might get our turn? But the truth is, every individual and every nation rests under the justly deserved wrath of God. We are all creatures in rebellion.

This includes everyone washed out into the sea and everyone sitting around sipping coffee this morning. We don’t understand the sins of others, and we barely understand our own outside the Spirit of God who convicts us and draws us to himself.

But sin is in the world. And God is in the world too.

And that’s the lesson we don’t yet understand, although a tsunami sheds some light on it. The power of God and the fragility of man are fairly clear here. His purpose, less so.

In the face of such suffering we can choose doubt, of course. Even unbelief. But any faithful response begins with the certainty that something good can come of even this great sorrow.

Is the church being called to be channels of grace? Is Japan being prepared for a spiritual awakening? Will emptiness give way to hope?

I have no idea. But that’s why I commit myself (and the Japanese) to a faithful creator, who gave his own Son to reconcile us to himself. Such grace is beyond our comprehension.

Even now the faithful who died are better off. The faithless, none the worse. And the living? Perhaps more willing to give. Or to receive. Grace abounds in our poverty of spirit and light is brighter in the darkness (Matthew 5). I just don’t understand how.

But this I do know: any point of pain or flash of joy is the work of God in some way and to some end. Even hell itself.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
(Hebrews 12:28-29 ESV)

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He teaches communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

9 Responses to “is a tsunami an “act of God”?”

  1. What does this mean “for our God is a consuming fire”?

  2. I deeply resonate with the Scriptures you shared, and the questions you raised in this post. The points taken, filled with certainty and yet “tentativeness” as to God’s ultimate purposes were a perfect mixture of the paradoxes we see all throughout His Word.

    The mystery….. that Almighty God ordained the greatest good of all time (the rescue of men’s condemned souls) through the greatest evil possible (the willing sacrifice, in our place, of His beloved Son on an instrument of human torture). Will we ever fathom the deep purposes of God’s plan(s)? Great good from great suffering?
    No, and on this very point we often falter…. we are finite, He is not. We view justice and fairness through skewered lenses; He sees crystal clear. We desperately want our say and “control” over all things; God clearly asserts in Word and in action, that we are not, and never will be, in control.
    I cry out to God on behalf of all He has ordained in Japan…. Haiti…. the Middle East…. Darfur…. WWII Germany and on and on it goes back to the Garden. Yes, I do say ordained, not “allowed”….. (I reference God’s lengthy response in the book of Job when He finally responds to Job’s agony and questions). His Sovereign purposes are beyond finding out….. His heart of love and commitment beyond question when gazing at Calvary and then the empty tomb. HE is God…. HE gets to choose the unfolding of history. Not me. Not any of us.

  3. A good friend (great, actually) is undergoing surgery tomorrow on a rare cancer. There’s a lot of unknowns and frightening outcomes.
    I talked to him yesterday about it and about some of the stuff we’ve gone through in our shared 25 years… and I said something about believing that there is a reason for everything– even though I don’t expect to know what those reasons are.
    He asked, “Do you really believe that?”
    I do– but I’m still figuring it out. I don’t think that we are chess pieces that God is rearranging. But I do know that we have an extraordinary effect on the people around us– so much so that we can’t take that in every second. There are moments we are aware of it– but mostly we go about in our own little orbit without a clue as to how the ripples we create are rocking someone else’s boat (for good or for bad).
    I don’t know how much I believe that our prayers are necessarily changing the outcome of what is God’s plan. My friend said that he really, really appreciates the sentiment from people who are “praying for you [him]” because it reminds him of the love that they have for him– and that it feels like they have something tangible that they can do… but he doesn’t believe that God is tallying up the total and saying, “Well, gee. If only 6 more people had prayed for him I’d have cured him…” or that the poor guy in the next OR is going to live or die based on the utter lack of people in his circle praying for him. But I do believe that those prayers aren’t in vain or wasted. They are heard. And the act of that prayer is drawing people closer to God and is, in itself, a nice, small miracle. That and most of aren’t praying for a cure for him– but for peace and comfort and grace. For the skill of the medical team. For the fears of his wife and daughters and family. Last night my prayers turned to being really grateful that I get to know him at all– that for 25 years I’ve been privileged to love him and to have him as a spiritual encourager.

    Free will makes my head hurt.

  4. The greatest peace for me in all of this comes from the fact that God knows each of his children individually. To him, it was not a “mass destruction.” He knows on a very personal level each person that died and each person that lived. He knows each person that lost a family member or friend and each person that lost a home.

    And he knew for each of them that it would be for the best.

  5. That’s an interesting take on things. I’ve had many debates with friends about this kind of thing. I feel like it’s one of those things that we don’t understsand, can’t understand, and will never understand.

    God is a mystery. We can study every hour of our entire life and not even come close to understanding such complex issues.

    Great post. Very thought provoking.

  6. I don’t see sickness as always a bad thing but can also be an opportunity to be better and stronger. Of course we don’t get sick (or fall in a disaster zone) on purpose, but when we do, we try our best to come out of it better http://hannawilburs.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/sick-opportunity/

  7. I heard on the news a few nights ago, the phrase, “apocalypse now?” The news anchorman was asking if we are facing The Apocalypse because of all the extreme weather, disasters, wars and unrest. He didn’t answer the question, simply said he didn’t know but he/they would continue to be at the front, reporting on these things.

    I found it interesting that a question with at least some semblance of a spiritual nature was voiced on the national news. I feel and hear and see around me that many people are asking this same question. They want to know if there is a reason, a direction, an outcome to all that is happening in the world. It seems disasters draw the collective consciousness toward spiritual questioning. If the history of Israel is any example (and it is), it takes nothing short of disaster to short-circuit the human propensity for going on its merry way, ignoring God and doing what is right in its own eyes. (The lessons of the book of Judges point this out quite clearly).

    In the book of Ezekiel, God speaks about His anger being accomplished and uses the repeated refrain, “and they shall know that I am the Lord.” This presupposes that prior to His anger being accomplished, the people did not know, or were not convinced, that God was sovereign, or that He was at work in their lives/culture.

    Perhaps in the escalating nature of natural disasters, human deprivation, wars, bloodshed and pain, there is the urgent message–that we must learn that God is the Lord–that His ways are not our ways–that we must reject our sinful lives in order to share in His sinless one. God declares that in His judgment, they will know that He is the Lord. Perhaps the world is on a voyage of discovery that shall lead its inhabitants to the ultimate knowledge that God is the Lord.

    Ezekiel 7:23-27 (ESV)
    “Forge a chain! For the land is full of bloody crimes and the city is full of violence. [24] I will bring the worst of the nations to take possession of their houses. I will put an end to the pride of the strong, and their holy places shall be profaned. [25] When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there shall be none. [26] Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor. They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders. [27] The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord.”

  8. Not one shred of evidence for any or all of the above postulations. All written by deluded people who need to get a life…..and stop preaching absolute crap – you religious bigots. Accordung to all above all god wants is for you to believe in him…..how egotostic and strangely obscene in his repayments to non-believers and unsubstantuated promises of better things to come!

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