By Matthew Pickens
Events like the recent 7.0 earthquake that occurred off the coast of Haiti raise a lot of questions about the sovereignty of God and human suffering. Most estimates place the number of dead between 50,000 and 100,000 and that number may continue to rise as relief efforts are hampered by the chaos in the area. How should Christians respond to such tragedies?
First, our attention should be drawn to the fact that while Christ’s great work of redemption has been accomplished it has not yet been perfected. Paul reminds us that the creation itself groans for the revealing of the children of God (Rom. 8:19). Tragedies like this earthquake remind us that this present world as polluted by the consequences of Adam’s sin is far short of the new heavens and the new earth to be revealed when Christ comes in glory and God himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:1-7).
Second, while we reject the comments made by Pat Robertson that this earthquake was God’s judgment on Haiti we do have to acknowledge that disasters like this are a sign of God’s final judgment for sins. Jesus points to events where unjust persecution or disaster should be understood as a warning of the true and perfect divine judgment that is to come (Luke 13:1-5). We should understand that even horrific disasters like what happened in Haiti work like the trumpets in revelation. The blast of the trumpet is not the judgment itself. But it calls out a warning that the judgment is coming and summons all men everywhere to repent.
Third, we have to remember that God is sovereign over the earthquake. God does not need us to defend him by making him less than perfectly sovereign over all things. Scripture clearly asserts God’s omniscience (Ps. 139; Heb. 4:11-13; Is. 46:10; 1 John 3:20), omnipotence (Ps. 115:3; Is. 14:24, 27; 46:10; 55:11; Luke 18:27), and absolute sovereignty (Rom. 11:33-36; 1 Tim. 6:15-16). We cannot say that this earthquake was something that God could not prevent or did not foreordain according to his perfect plan.
However it is exactly this point that ought to give us hope in the face of such tragedies! Because God works things out according to his plan we know that there is a good purpose to our pain even when we do not understand that purpose (Rom. 8:28). If God is not sovereign over the earthquake then there is no hope for one day when such disasters will never occur in the new heavens and the new earth. It is only because we believe in God’s sovereignty that we can trust that God has a good purpose for the evil that happens in this world. The proof of God’s goodness in the face of suffering is the cross of Jesus Christ. God ordained all that happens in this world but that means he ordained a world he would enter in human flesh and blood and personally suffer the consequences of sin. If God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for our salvation then we can be confident that he will also graciously give us all things (Rom. 8:32).
The prophet Jeremiah also once faced a situation that led him to question God’s goodness. Through the whole book of Lamentations he weeps over the horror he has witnessed. Yet right in the middle of his lament he calls to mind the faithfulness of God:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;they are new every morning;great is your faithfulness.“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:22-24)So the way that we need to respond to the earthquake is to believe that God is good and to put our trust in him. Along with this we know that God’s message to the people of Haiti is to repent and to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The best answer to the earthquake is to point to God’s mercy, kindness, and love as they were demonstrated at the cross and then to comfort God’s people with the words from the Heidelberg Catechism:
(Q. 28) What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence does still uphold all things?
That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.