In the light of recent floods and bushfires, Australians are divided as to the cause of natural disasters. For some, anthropogenic climate change is the primary culprit: we are reaping the consequences of our CO2 emissions. The only hope is to erase our carbon footprint.
Others take a more stoical line: natural disasters just happen, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent them. Australia is a place where these tragedies regularly occur, and the sooner we accept this, the better off we will be.
In our age of personal autonomy, we despise the notion that God would ever judge us for our sin.
Yet, the one question we loathe hearing is this: Are natural disasters the judgment of God?
Whether or not you find this question offensive, here are three reasons it is worthy of our consideration:
1. Disasters May be a Judgment of God
In our age of personal autonomy, we despise the notion that God would ever judge us for our sin. We live the way we like, and no one—not even God—is permitted to get in the way. Particularly despicable is the notion that God would ever judge us through an environmental catastrophe.
At no point was this clearer than in late 2019. Australian media outlets vented their moral outrage when Israel Folau suggested that the 2019 bushfires were the judgment of God on Australia for our sin.
Whether or not the bushfires were God’s judgment, God’s Word is clear that natural disasters are always the consequence of living in a broken world marred by sin (Romans 8:19-21). Furthermore, the Bible is clear that some catastrophes we witness in the natural world are not random. Sometimes, natural catastrophes are God’s judgment in response to specific sins.
For instance, consider the global flood (Genesis 5-7), the fire and brimstone God sent upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:23-29), the ten plagues God inflicted upon the Egyptians (Exodus 7:14-11:10), and God’s opening of the earth to swallow the sons of Korah (Numbers 16:28-35).
For modern people who resist the idea that God would judge us (or who don’t believe we deserve God’s judgment for our sin), the possibility that God would send such catastrophes is shocking. But this is our problem, not the Bible’s. If we spent more time reflecting upon the depth of our sin and the holiness of God, we would be shocked that such disasters don’t occur more often.
2. Natural Disasters are a Foretaste of Judgement
Natural disasters are always a foretaste of what the final judgment will be like. They are a picture, a portrait, and a preview of what is to come upon those who do not find refuge in the only Saviour, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 2:5-6).
Both the floods and the fires of Genesis were a foretaste of God’s eternal judgment— warnings of what must come again to a world that reject God’s salvation (Matt 24:37-38; 2 Pet 3:5-7). Jesus describes disasters, including wars, famines, and earthquakes as “the beginning of the birth pains” as we wait for His return (Mark 13:8). The writer of Revelation sees such catastrophic events as the beginnings of God’s wrath (Rev 6:1-17).
Far from proceeding from a harsh and malevolent God, natural disasters are a reminder that God’s forgiveness and grace are still available to those who repent and believe. After all, because natural disasters are a shadow of Judgment Day, God uses them to compel us to trust in Him before it’s too late.
3. Natural Disasters are God’s Call to Repent
In the West, we are prone to succumb to the illusion that we are the masters of our fates and the captains of our souls. Natural disasters are a sobering wake-up call that nothing could be further from the truth.
As C.S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain:
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
Each time a calamity strikes, we are reminded of the glorious truth that God is in control, and we are not. When God strips away our security and comfort, we recognise just how fragile our lives are.
Yet, God does not do this arbitrarily. He does it to alarm us of our need to repent of our sin and trust in Him. Jesus spoke directly about this in the Gospel of Luke:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Jesus gets to the heart of our issue—our own heart.
Whether or not a disaster is linked with a specific sin—and Jesus’ comments warn us against people who make such confident pronouncements—the general fact remains that every one of us will perish if we do not repent. Our response to disasters shouldn’t be to try to work out the specifics of who’s to blame. Rather we should see all disasters as reminders of own feeble estate and humbly acknowledge Jesus Christ as our only Saviour.
Our response to disasters shouldn’t be to try to work out the specifics of who’s to blame. Rather we should see all disasters as reminders of own feeble estate and humbly acknowledge Jesus Christ as our only Saviour.
The Bottom Line
As humans, we aren’t omniscient; we don’t know why specific natural disasters occur. Nevertheless, while it is presumptuous to suggest all natural disasters are divine retribution, the pendulum must not be swung in the other direction to suggest that no natural disasters are due to specific sins.
Natural disasters remind us that we are living in a fallen world; that we ourselves are mortal, and that there is a greater judgment to come. By God’s grace, He allows these tragic events to afflict our world so that we would recognise our desperate need for salvation.
Through these dark catastrophes, the beauty of Jesus Christ shines all the brighter. It is the grace of God which shines upon our hearts in these moments to see that there truly is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12).
 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Harper Collins, 1996), 91