Disasters happen in a fallen world, and we can’t do anything to prevent them. Perhaps that sounds insensitive, but this year’s earthquake in Nepal beckons our memory to other significant disasters. Five years ago, we experienced the massive loss of human life in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where more than 200,000 perished. In 2011 there was the deadly tsunami in Japan that triggered the meltdown of a nuclear reactor.
When Benjamin Franklin said death and taxes are the only two certainties in life, he neglected to add natural catastrophes to the list. As part of our cursed and fallen world, disasters will consistently occur until Jesus returns or takes us home. Jesus spoke about earthquakes and other disasters as signposts pointing to the eventual end of the world as we know it (Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11). Given that they are an inevitable fact of life, what can we learn from disasters? Here are three lessons.
1. Disasters Remind
Disasters help us remember the sobering truth that our lives are ever-so-brief. Our bodies are delicate, fragile, and constantly vulnerable to the unpredictable and menacing perils we face every day (Isa. 40:6–8; James 4:14). And that reminder should lead us to God’s Word for guidance.
In Ephesians 2:11–12, Paul instructed the Gentile believers to remember that they were once separated from Christ. Now united with him by grace, we can’t help but be reminded of those who are not. Disasters give us frightening clarity that countless men, women, and children, created in the image and likeness of God, quietly and obscurely head into eternal judgment without the covering of Jesus Christ applied to their lives.
2. Disasters Mobilize
In the midst of the Nepal earthquake, I heard from pastor Deben, a Nepali native who leads our ministry’s Mercy Network in Kathmandu. We’ve been equipping his church (along with 14 other churches) to serve the suffering in their communities since 2009. This disaster has mobilized each one to go into their communities and supply aid to those who’ve come strikingly close to death.
In most disasters, local churches are first responders and often the best rebuilders. Unlike outside agencies that leave once the initial help is provided, local pastors and leaders are rooted firmly in their communities and will remain after things settle. They’re motivated to help long-term because the disaster affects their own homes, villages, schools, and workplaces.
Not only are local churches the most keenly motivated to act, they also zero in on the most important needs. While physical needs are immediate and visible, a local pastor also responds to the ultimate and eternal spiritual need of his community—the need to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (John 17:3).
3. Disasters Point
Disasters can be abated, but not entirely averted. Technology can help, but it cannot permanently deliver humanity from their divinely appointed end of life. Whether by disaster or not, each person will die and enter judgment (Gen. 2:17; 5:5; Heb. 9:27). Disasters have a tendency to point people to Christ. Catastrophic events often spawn a renewed urgency for the gospel to be proclaimed.
Yes, in the midst of something terrible we can see God work in ways we otherwise might not. As Jesus promised to always be with his disciples to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), the Spirit-filled church points those affected by disaster to Jesus. May natural disasters remind each of us of the grace of our Savior, mobilize the church to serve sacrificially, and point the gaze of many towards Christ.