Are Natural Catastrophes, Mass Shootings God’s Judgment?

Posted on September 11, 2018


By David Ettinger

destructionIt’s hurricane season here in Florida, and as I write this, a massive hurricane is set to pound our northern neighbors in the Carolinas. Hurricane Florence has the potential to do horrible damage, and we’re praying for this thing to die out before it reaches land.

This reminds me that there is a segment of Christianity which sees every hurricane, tsunami, raging fire, earthquake, and other “natural” catastrophes as God judging humanity. This segment also sees terrorist acts such as 9-11 and mass shootings as further examples of God’s specifically-ordained judgment.

How about it? Are all such tragic instances God’s direct doing? Let’s examine.

What Jesus Said
In the Book of Luke, we read of an episode where the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, executed a group of citizens from Galilee while they were offering sacrifices. There had been a perception among the people that “these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way” (13:3). Jesus, however, knew this perception was flawed and corrected it: “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (v. 4).

Jesus gave another example. There had been a recent occurrence where 18 innocent people were killed when a tower fell on them. Jesus said of them, “do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (vv. 4-5).

graveJesus was making two points. The first is that “death happens.” In this fallen world, people die. Believers die, and unbelievers die. Righteous men and women die, and unrighteous men and women die. Death shows no bias; he is an equal-opportunity disperser of his “favors.” It doesn’t matter how one dies. The one who dies peacefully in his sleep is no less a sinner than the one mercilessly gunned down.

Jesus’ second point regards eternal life. In both instances, Jesus called on His hearers to repent unless they “perish.” The word “perish” does not refer to physical death, but the eternal state of the soul. To “perish” is to have one’s soul sentenced to eternal damnation.

Physical death, whether tranquil or violent, is no reflection on a human being’s soul; we all die.

What God Said
In the Book of Ezekiel, God spoke of wicked people who die. Far from an evil despot who gleefully rejoices, God affirms the opposite: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (18:23). And just to make sure He has made His point, God repeats Himself in 33:11: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

This truth is reiterated in the New Testament: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Does this sound like a vindictive God to you? Hardly. What it does sound like, however, is a righteous, holy, and pure God who must judge those who go to their graves without having repented of their sins. His great desire, however, is their salvation.

God’s Judgment?
iron crossSo, are “natural” catastrophes, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings instances of God’s judgment? I don’t believe so. Rather, I believe such occurrences are the result of the evil condition of this fallen world system ruled by Satan, and the God-spurning human race imploding on itself.

Does God delight in such events? The Ezekiel and 2 Peter passages tell us, “Absolutely not!” It was not God’s desire that those who died in these events perish; to the contrary, His desire was that each of them would have “come to repentance.”

There will be a time when God judges once and for all. Until then, He offers salvation to all men and women. It is the responsibility of believers not to condemn, but to be in accord with God, desiring that “everyone come to repentance.”