Note from the Editor: In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, many church leaders are looking for ways to help those affected. The church has always had a rich history of helping those in need. The love of Christ compels us to act.
If you are in the area affected by storm, or are in a position to go help, Outreach has created a site for Houston Area Churches Helping with Flood Relief to give a list of churches helping flood victims. Outreach is also offering free banners for churches helping flood victims.
Billy Graham: God Uses Natural Disasters to Remind Us to Depend on Him and Each Other
It’s one of the most ancient, anguished and difficult questions to answer: “If God is all-good and all-powerful, why do bad things happen?” It’s also a question we as pastors are asked, in one way or another, by the communities we lead.
Billy Graham tackled this thorny issue when asked this question:
Q: Are natural disasters sometimes an instrument of God’s judgment? I’ve been wondering sometimes if God was trying to speak to us when these things happen.
In his response, Graham lays out three things God might be teaching us through tragedy. His answers are a good reminder for those of us struggling with how to guide our own people through their tragedies.
TRAGEDY REMINDS US OF LIFE’S BREVITY
“We may be strong and successful, and assume life is always going to be that way—but when disaster strikes, we realize this isn’t true,” Graham writes. “We can lose everything in only a few seconds, and perhaps for the first time we are brought face to face with the reality of death—and our need of God.”
One of the greatest blessings of living in the United States—our prosperity—can also be a curse. We often believe our success is due to our achievements and that we are entitled to comfort. Tragedy brings us to a humble recognition that having control over life is an illusion, and we are desperately in need of the God who holds the world together.
TRAGEDY RECONNECTS US TO COMMUNITY
“Disasters also can remind us of our need to help others, and not just be concerned about ourselves and our problems,” Graham writes. “The Bible says, ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2).”
So often tragedy breeds isolation. But one of the greatest gifts of Christian community is to be gently pulled out of isolation and into a loving group of people who weep and pray and can say “me too” in the middle of pain. In the story of Ruth, tragedy sends Naomi back to her home where she can be surrounded by her community and give the most honest version of her story, that her tragedy has made her bitter, and she is in need of help.
TRAGEDY REVEALS GOD’S LOVE
Perhaps Graham’s wisest counsel in the post comes not from what he says, but what he doesn’t say. Nowhere does Graham claim that God causes all tragedy. He doesn’t give the pseudo-spiritual, but unbiblical, idea that “everything happens for a reason” which turns pain into some sort of cosmic algebraic equation that ultimately balances out. The Bible says “all things happen” but that for those who love him God can take these “all things” and redeem them into something good.
This is the message of the book of Job or the story of Lazarus’ resurrection: tragedy happens, and it deserves to be mourned over (Jesus weeping at his friend’s tomb models this). The beauty of the gospel is not that tragedies aren’t tragic, it’s that—to paraphrase the poet John Donne—one day death will die. The hope is that even the most terrible tragedies can be weaved into God’s beautiful story of redemption. As Graham says in his closing:
“We don’t necessarily know why God allows natural disasters to occur; sometimes Satan seems to have a hand in them. But the time to prepare for life’s crises is now, not when they strike. Is your faith and trust in Christ, and are you seeking to live for Him every day, no matter what happens.”