Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
Bookmark and Share

Where was God when the Tsunami Struck?

Martyn McGeown


"Come behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth" (Ps. 46:8).

In a day when men’s hearts are "failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth" (Luke 21:26), many in the church world look to their leaders for guidance. Sadly, they have by their recent comments proved yet again that they are "blind leaders of the blind."

When people ask, "Where was God when the tsunami struck South East Asia?" the proper response is, "Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased" (Ps. 115:3). We must confess, with the psalmist, that "Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and in all deep places" (Ps. 135:6). The proper response to this is worship. Instead of shaking fists defiantly in God’s face and asking how a God of love can do this, we should ask, "If God can do this amazing thing, then why am I not on my knees begging His forgiveness?" Even this is foretold, when God sends plagues upon the earth: "Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts" (Rev. 9:21).

Instead of this, church leaders, following the world, are falling over themselves to deny that God was involved in the tsunami. We are told it is a natural disaster, "Mother Nature" run amok, the power of the elements etc. but not an act of God.

For example, the Irish Presbyterian Moderator, Rev. Ken Newell stated, "There have been earthquakes since the earth started to form, and there will be earthquakes until the earth disappears."

The earth did not just "start to form": God created it, and when He did so, there were no earthquakes, there was no suffering, no pain and no disease. Everything was very good. All these disasters came into the world through our sin in Adam. Man has been rebelling against God since the Fall and it is because of that rebellion that "the creature [creation] was made subject to vanity" (Rom. 8:20).

Indeed, Rev. Newell’s comments are echoed by the scoffers predicted by Peter: "Where is the promise of his [Christ’s] coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (II Peter 3:4).

Rev. Newell believes that the idea that God is punishing people through the tsunami is "appalling." The Bible, however, teaches that God is active in judgment throughout the earth. Wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes, and death itself are all under God’s control and instruments of His. One simply cannot read the Old Testament and miss this. And, since God is unchanging, this is also true in the New Testament. Indeed, the last book of the Bible describes God pouring out His judgments upon the earth and the Lord Jesus warns that these things will increase as His return draws nigh.

Not everyone who is directly affected by one affliction or another is suffering directly for his own sin. Jesus makes that clear when He heals a blind man in John 9. Moreover, the book of Job tells the story of a righteous man who loses his property, his family, and his health.  Although he was perplexed by the disasters in his life, he continued to trust God. The LORD sometimes tests believers by all kinds of trials. His ways are past finding out.

It would therefore be a misreading of providence to try to equate every judgment in this world to a specific sin or a specific person. That cannot be done. The Bible gives us general information. We then can apply these principles.

We do, however, all live in a sin-cursed universe. The church of Jesus Christ, which suffered persecution for years at the hands of the Muslims in many parts of South East Asia was affected as much as others were. Many believers suffered the loss of all things. However, when God sends these afflictions on His people, it is not out of hatred, or to punish them for their sins. Certainly, the LORD judges the wicked, especially those who persecute His Church; but God used this to bring some of His saints home, or to deliver them from persecution, or for some other purpose in His inscrutable plan whereby "He worketh all things according to the counsel of his will’ (Eph. 1:11). But we do know this, that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28) and "neither death [through tsunami or other ways] … nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:38-39).

Most striking about Rev. Newell’s response to the tsunami is the complete lack of Scripture. Not once does he even refer to the Bible. Not once does he mention Jesus Christ. His response is purely humanistic. Amazing that such a man can be a leader in the church! Maybe he has been influenced through ecumenical compromise with his friend, Roman Catholic Archbishop Sean Brady, who would appear to share Rev. Newell’s view of creation. Dr. Brady says, "God chose to create a world, not perfect, but one that is on a journey towards perfection." He too forgets that God did create a perfect world, which has been cursed by sin.

Robin Eames, Primate of the Church of Ireland, stresses the humanitarian response to the tsunami. He emphasizes the "mystery of God’s love to all humankind" and says that God is working through people to show the compassion of Christ.

God may be working through the responses of the ungodly world, but it is emphatically not through the operation of some common grace. There is no grace in an unbeliever, whether he be a Muslim, a Hindu, an atheist or a Buddhist. All such are under the wrath of God, because they do not believe in Jesus Christ. However, the LORD does turn the hearts of men, even kings (Prov. 16:9; Prov 21:1; Ezra 1:1; 7:27) to do His will, because "the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:9). God is sovereign even over the reactions of mankind.

Robin Eames then goes on to misquote Matthew 25:40: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren [Dr. Eames misquotes ‘children’] ye have done it unto me." Many in the church world fail to note that Jesus is speaking of His brethren: i.e. Christians, the elect, redeemed and called people of God. Of course, Christians are commanded to do good to their neighbour, even ungodly neighbours, and to love their enemies, but Christ’s primary focus in Matthew 25 is how the wicked goats and the elect sheep treated His brethren on the earth, because God’s people and Christ Himself are ONE body.

The ungodly world are rallying round to help their fellow creatures in the wake of this disaster. However, they are still God-haters, still at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7) and all their humanitarian works (without faith in Jesus Christ) are filthy rags and dung before God (Isa. 64:6; Phil. 3:8). All man’s "love" towards his fellow man is, without faith in Jesus Christ, "living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another" (Titus 3:3).

Remember that "the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (Prov. 12:10). What the world calls "compassion" coming from ungodly men and women, God calls sin. Yet, to refuse to show mercy would be more sin!

Article 13 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England says that "Works done before the grace of Christ ... have the nature of sin'' and the Presbyterian standard, the Westminster Confession of Faith says "Works done by unregenerate men, although ... things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet the neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God" (16:7).

Let us never forget that the only work which pleases God is the life and atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ! Outside of Christ, good works are impossible.

Even the atheist spokesman from the Northern Ireland Humanist Association believes in humanitarianism. Does this mean that God is pleased with him, or that God looks kindly on his works? No! (Rom. 14:23) All the good works of mankind, all the billions of pounds raised to help the victims cannot pay for even one sin. This must be acknowledged, lest the people fall for Satan’s lie: that good works can save them, that they can merit something before God, and they perish in their self-righteousness and pride.

Contrary to what Robin Eames says, God does not love all humankind. God loves His elect "in Christ." John confirms that Jesus "loved His own which were in the world" (John 13:1). God’s love is shown in the cross of Christ, where Jesus atoned for all the sins of His beloved sheep. For the goats Jesus did not die (John 10:26-27). For them Jesus does not even pray (John 17:9). God hates the goats. "The wicked and him that loveth violence his [God’s] soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup’ (Ps. 11:6). It is true that God loves the world (John 3:16) but the term "world" in Scripture does not mean the entire human race (John 12:19; Rom. 1:18; I Cor. 11:32).

The reason why people are "at sea" after this, is because it does not fit in their unbiblical world view of an all-loving, all forgiving, indulgent god. When God does this, they say, "How can a God of love do this?" If they believed and understood the Bible, they would know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent (John 17:3). They would know the god of the modern world and the god of the modern church, in many places too, is a miserable caricature. God is not accountable to us. "Who art thou that repliest against God?" (Rom. 9:20). God is not subject to our puny ideas of righteousness. Everything God does is righteous. He cannot be unrighteous. "Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid!" (Rom. 9:14). What is worse: to believe in God who sends such devastation on the world in accordance with His eternal purposes, the one true God, whom we stand in awe of, whose wisdom and power are beyond our understanding; or a "god" who cannot control His own creation, or who no longer involves Himself in it, allowing "nature to take its course"? How can we have confidence in any God except the Most High, who "doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say unto him, what doest thou?" (Dan. 4:35).

See also the article "The Tsunami in SE Asia—Divine Punishment?"

Click here, to hear a sermon from Job 12, entitled "God and the Tsunami"