Dave's Deliberations

Random jottings from David Matthew, a Christian teacher and writer whose main website is www.davidmatthew.org.uk

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Location: Castleford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Married since 1962 to Faith. We have three wonderful children and three equally wonderful grandchildren.

January 02, 2005

The Asian Tsunami Disaster

'Tsunami kills 150,000 in Asia on 26 December 2004.'

The world has been shocked by the scale of this event and the vast numbers killed. How can we explain such ‘natural disasters’ in the light of our Christian faith and the teaching of the Bible?

These disasters stem from the fact that we live in a fallen creation. When our first parents sinned in Eden, God, being just, had to punish sin. The way he did so is interesting. First he pronounced a curse on the serpent (Satan); then he did the same to Eve, who from now on would bear children in pain. But when he addressed Adam the curse took an unexpected form:

‘Cursed is the ground because of you…’[1]

The word ‘ground’ in the original Hebrew is adam. That same Hebrew word is also translated ‘man’—in fact Adam, the first man, was named after the earth from which God had made him. This points to an important truth that runs right through Scripture, namely, that humanity and the earth are intimately connected. To be more specific, it is humanity’s moral condition that affects the earth more than anything else.[2]

Because of this connection, when Adam fell the whole of creation fell with him. Ever since that time, creation has been in a fallen condition and has been subject to phenomena that have often proved harmful to its human occupants: earthquakes, volcanoes, floods etc. The recent tsunami that swept so many to their death is yet another reminder that this earth of ours is deeply affected by human sin.

This does not mean that the victims were more sinful that anyone else or more deserving of judgment than the rest of us. The fact is, as sinners we all deserve to die. It is only thanks to God’s grace in Christ that salvation is freely available to all who will accept it.

The earth can only be liberated from its fallenness as man is liberated from his. To some extent that can take place now. A society that upholds godly standards of morality on a broad scale can help stabilise the created order. But not until Christ returns to put sin away once and for all will the earth be totally freed from the inner turmoil that causes natural disasters. Paul puts it this way:

‘All creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God’s curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.’[3]

In other words, the connection between humanity and the earth continues right to the end. When all sin is gone, when the curse is lifted and our redemption is complete, then the natural order will also be freed from the harmful phenomena that have tarnished its beauty.[4] No more earthquakes, no more tsunamis then.


1. See Genesis 3, especially v14-19

2. See, for example, Leviticus 26:3-4 where Israel is promised the earth’s blessings (rain in season and fruitful ground) in response to their moral obedience; Hosea 4:1-3 where, because of Israel’s rampant ungodliness ‘the land mourns’ in the sense that animals, birds and fish die; Isaiah 24:1, 3-6 where ‘the earth is defiled by its people’—it suffers famine because of their immoral behaviour; Zephaniah 1:2-3 where the order of natural disasters is a reversal of the order of creation in Genesis; 2 Chronicles 7:14 where, as the people ‘turn from their wicked ways’, God promises to ‘heal their land’ in the sense of allow it to prosper agriculturally (this verse, contrary to common usage, has nothing whatever to do with revival).

3. Romans 8:19-21 New Living Translation

4. 2 Peter 3:13


Blogger David Derbyshire said...

It is interesting, in the light of your previous post on the Church of England, that Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in last Sunday’s Telegraph “The question, ‘How can you believe in a God who permits suffering on this scale?' is therefore very much around at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren't - indeed it would be wrong if it weren’t.”

I think such doubts come partly from people not accepting that as sinners we all deserve to die but also partly from the fact that some people are killed and injured and others are not irrespective of their sin or their faith. It is this second question that I see the writers of the Bible – especially in the Old Testament wisdom literature – struggling with. They don’t come to any easy answers but they still in the end praise God.

I can’t ignore it, in disasters like this, when people don’t find satisfactory answers to their cry to God of ‘Why?’ But I don’t doubt God. I simply think that God’s ways are often a mystery to us.

7 January 2005 at 15:09  
Blogger Phileric said...

Interesting stuff dave. God is a big issue for me and I can't say I believe in any religuos interpretation of God at all. I do believe in a God but it has to be something bigger than humans can ever understand. I am a big beliver in evolution and believe the origins of mankind lie in that theory somewhere, not the Adam & Eve story. If you define God (as religion does) then you give it limitations. If you accept that God is something you cannot understand (unless you are given 100% proof) then the possibilities are endless. I have faith in a power that is beyond our imagination and I call it God.
You mention Sunami and how can a God let it happen. My view is that these natural distasters are a result of nature and something we have to put up with as part of existing on this planet. The kind of faith I have is in that which gets people through these times. I don't expect you to agree with me.

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