“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” - Luke 21:25-27 (emphasis mine throughout).
God is constantly being blamed for things that are not his fault. This includes natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.
God is not the cause of natural disasters. Man is.
By this I mean that God created the earth, in fact the entire cosmos, in absolutely perfect form and function. After God was all done with his creative work, he stepped back, admired his handiwork, and saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
So what disturbed and disrupted the beauty, balance, and perfection of God’s created order? It was the fall of man. When man deliberately disobeyed God and fell into sin, he pulled all of creation down with him. This is why the ground which man worked was “cursed” from that day forward, and why it brought forth “thorns and thistles” and forced man to eat “by the sweat of (his) face” (Genesis 3:17-19).
Work is not a consequence of the fall; God put man in the Garden to work the land before he fell into sin. So work is not a consequence of the fall, but thorns and thistles are. Prior to the fall, there were no thorns and thistles. After the fall, there were.
One of the consequences of the fall was that the earth became subject not just to weeds but also to natural disasters such as mighty storms, deadly floods, violent earthquakes, and lethal volcanoes.
God had warned man that on the day he deliberately disobeyed, he would die (Genesis 3:3). Spiritual death was an immediate result of the fall, but physical death was a part of the mix and could come in many ways - through illness, violence, war, and, yes, natural disasters. God warned man that death would be the consequence of his fall into sin, and all of human history has verified the sober reality of God’s warning.
Paul alludes to the connection between the fall of man and the fall of the natural world in Romans 8 when he says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it...we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:20, 22). The spasms and excruciating agony of giving birth serve as a picture of the spasms and the pain man encounters in a fallen world.
The point here is that man’s sin affected all of creation and damaged the machinery in ways that will not be fixed until the rightful King returns to put everything right. The natural world will not be returned to its original design and functionality until the one who created it returns to undo the damage man has done.
In the meantime, we must never forget that God can, if he chooses, intervene to stay the hand of natural disasters. But he does so only rarely, which is why we call them miracles.
But we also must never forget that the purposes of God can be served in every disaster, since each one provides an opportunity for men to demonstrate generosity, heroism, sacrifice, resilience, and determination. The best and highest expressions of man’s capacity to do good stand out in brightest relief against the dark backdrop of the worst that nature can throw at us.
Paul makes it clear that a fallen creation is not the end of the story. God hasn’t put things right yet, but one day he will. In fact, the apostle says the redemption of the natural order is not tied to the work of Al Gore or Greenpeace or the Sierra Club or to curbing CO2 emissions. Rather the redemption of the created order is tied inextricably to the future of the sons of God. God subjected creation to futility “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21).
Just as unredeemed man plunged nature into chaos, so redeemed man will pull God’s creation up from its twistedness and return it to its original design. If you’d like to be part of the ultimate environmental movement, the movement that one day will set the entire natural world right, the place to begin is to become a friend of God. And while you’re at it, you might invite all your environmentalist friends to do the same. There is no better way to care for the future of the earth than to become a child of God.