Al Mohler, in his book Culture Shift, has a chapter in which he talks about how Christians should respond to disasters. Specifically, he is talking about natural disasters, but the principles hold for other disasters, such as terrorist attacks. Mohler offers us three biblical principles to keep in mind as we respond to such calamities.
1. God is Still God
His first point is that we must maintain a firm belief in the existence of the biblical God. Mohler writes,
“A faithful Christian response must affirm the true character and power of God. The Bible leaves no room for doubting either the omnipotence or the benevolence of God. The God of the Bible is not a passive bystander, not a deistic Creator who has withdrawn from His creation and is simply watching it unfold.”
In the face of seemingly absurd evil events, we must continue to know that God is still real and reigning over it all.
2. All Disaster is Rooted in Initial Sin, But It Might or Might Not Be Specific Immediate Sin – We Must Be Humble
Mohler then continues with his second point (which has almost three sub-points, if you will). The first is the truth that we know that all suffering (evil natural disasters) are a result of human sin.
“We are in no position to argue that there is no link between human sin and this awful tragedy...The Bible is clear that sin is the fundamental explanation for these awful disasters...The sin that is so clearly indicted in the biblical account of the Fall. According to Genesis 3, Adam’s sin had cosmic implications and effects. The effects of sin are evident all around us.”
This world isn’t the way it is supposed to be. And it is this way tragically because of sin.
But then he continues to explain the biblical tension. On the one hand, we must be very careful not to assign particular blame to the place and people that experienced the tragedy. While on the other hand, there is biblical warrant that God punishes particular places and people due to sin.
Referencing the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and Luke 13:2, Mohler writes,
“We must be very circumspect in assigning blame for natural evil. Were the people of Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India more sinful than all others?”
But he also writes,
“The Bible makes clear that God sometimes does respond to specific sin with cataclysmic natural disaster. Just ask the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.”
And this is the tension. We know for sure that calamity is a result of the fall. But when specific calamities strike, we don’t know if it is just a result of living in a cursed world or a judgment of God.
In the end, Mohler advises we take the proper and humble position. Citing the book of Job, the writes,
“In the book of the Bible most centrally concerned with suffering, it is Job’s friends who tried to offer detailed theological explanations and ended up looking foolish–and worse. Job himself was censured by God for ‘darken[ed] counsel by words without knowledge’ (Job 38:2). In the end, Job is vindicated by God’s grace and mercy, and Job can only respond, ‘I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.... I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes’ (Job 42:1-3, 5-6). Job’s humility should serve as a model for our own.”
3. Bring the Love of Christ in the Gospel
Third, and arguably most importantly, Mohler stresses that in the midst of calamity we must bring the love of Christ and the gospel:
“Third, Christians must respond with the love of Christ and the power of the gospel...We are called to be agents of Christ’s love and mercy. Following our Lord’s example, we must first mourn with those who mourn...Moreover, Christians should be at the forefront of relief efforts...Our answer to the reality of unspeakable tragedy must be to witness to the gospel of unfathomable power–the power to bring lige out of death.”
But he doesn’t end there (like many of us would). Because it is biblical, Mohler adds one more thing we cannot forget:
“Furthermore, we must indeed point to natural disasters as only a hint of the cataclysm that is yet to come–the holy judgment of God. On that day, the tidal waves of December 26, 2004, will be understood to have been one of the warnings all humanity should have heeded.”
A Summary of the Christian Response to Tragedy
In summary, therefore:
- We should keep our firm trust in the reality of the good and sovereign God.
- We must recognize that this world isn’t the way it is supposed to be because of sin entering the world.
- Then we must live in the tension that we do not know the specific sin that caused the event (if any at all), but there is biblical precedent that judgment can come upon cities and people because of sin.
- But in this tension, we are better off not making theological assertions and maintain our humility, as shown in the book of Job.
- Then finally, we are to bring the gospel. We are to love, serve, weep, and show the world the power of Christ that is greater than all calamities.
- And part of this gospel is the fact that apart from salvation, there is a righteous calamity coming, which all calamities are pointers to. We therefore lovingly urge people to cling to Christ and escape the judgment to come.
All quotes from R. Albert Mohler, Culture Shift (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2008), 129-135.