Dr. Vanhetloo on “Disasters”

From a reader: Dear Dr. Vanhetloo, In light of the recent cyclone in Myanmar and the great earthquake in China, man is given opportunity to ponder the ways of God (Isa. 55:8–9). Would you please address the issue of God’s judgment in this age? Is it unwise for believers today to view natural disasters of such proportions as connected to the judgment of God? I realize there is both a present and progressive aspect of God’s judgment (John 3:18–19). Likewise I realize Christians should be very careful about equating any natural disaster with the hand of God’s judgment. Therefore, is there a connection? Any insights you offer would be greatly appreciated. A few comments:


  1. Too many fail to distinguish between penalties and consequences. Any temporal penalty by a just God will be properly related to what is deserved. Natural disasters are among the consequences of the fall of Adam, and are not directly related, in most cases, with any deserved penalty. One generation in San Francisco was no more wicked and deserving of an earthquake than another. We cannot judge that certain sections of Myanmar or China are less sinful than these which were hit. We certainly cannot assert that believers who may have been caught in such disasters are more backslidden than others.
  2. The purpose of God’s law is not to give basis for divine judgment. By the law comes knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20), that men might seek God’s grace. By “natural” disasters should come the realization that God is supreme over all forces in this world, that He can fully protect His own, and that there is a purpose for what He allows. Believers are not always delivered and sinners are not always distressed. The God who is concerned about every hair on my head is fully able to handle any disaster.
  3. Also, many tend to think of God as actively anxious to stamp out evil. He is, admittedly, a God of wrath and judgment, but predominantly He is a god of grace. He is longsuffering, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Abraham was told that his descendents would be in a strange land and be afflicted four hundred years, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen 15:13-16). God’s patience with individuals and nations far exceeds just deserts.
  4. We do well not to proclaim that we know God’s mind and purposes. Jonah announced coming judgment, and the people of Nineveh repented. We are unable to judge that one generation in Nineveh was any more ungodly than another. We can, on the other hand, boldly proclaim that God’s offer of eternal life is for “whosoever.” We can lovingly warn that whosoever fails to accept God’s provided deliverance can be sure of eternal suffering in hell.
  5. It appears from Scripture that natural disasters will not occur in the millennium. The law will still define God’s instructions, and Jesus Christ Himself will be the final interpreter of details of that law. Even during that time of international peace and outward allegiance to truth, some will not accept the Savior. Disasters serve a minor purpose in the divine dealings with humankind. “To the law and to the testimony” will be the primary tool for doing the Lord’s work even in millennial surroundings.

JP: Comment: from Warren Vanhetloo in Cogitations – an email ministry of Dr. Warren Vanhetloo, a retired theology professor who served 43 years, at Central Baptist Seminary and Calvary Baptist Seminary, presently living in Holland MI.