Faith and Disaster Response

I’m sure most of us are glad we are not waking up in Baltimore or Nepal or Syria this morning. If we have any compassion, our hearts break for the people who are living in those places, dealing with devastation and violence which they did not bring on themselves. In each of these places, Christians, along with others who care, are bringing hope and help.

Each of us is grateful that we are not in those places, but what if we were? What can the Bible and our Christian tradition tell us about dealing with both natural disasters and riots? Since the 9-11 attacks, the US government has been urging citizens to be prepared for large-scale attacks and disasters. How can we be spiritually prepared as well?

The first step is to acknowledge the two-fold truth of God’s providence. There are some things God directs to happen; there are some things God allows to happen. The things that God directs are righteous and good. Many of the things that God allows are evil and tragic. We believe that God controls the final outcome of the universe and that outcome is love and joy and justice. In the present age, God allows us the free will to choose selfishness and violence. We live in a broken, fallen universe. Paul says that even the creation itself shows signs of longing for God’s final triumph. However, in God’s time “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay…” (Romans 8:21).

Secondly, the Bible acknowledges the reality of the messed-up world in which we live, but it also invites us to make it better by practicing and advocating for justice and right-living. Rioting is not the right response to the injustice people experience in Baltimore. But pretending that there is no injustice is not the right response either. Even in the disaster in Nepal, a lot of the human deaths occurred because the buildings were poorly built. In the same way that the inadequate levies made the Hurricane Katrina disaster worse for the people living there. We cannot eliminate every accident or death. This should be clear. But we should not settle for policies and actions by government or private businesses that endanger human lives when alternatives are available. Christians should call for humanitarian solutions and fight against mere expediency. We all know that the Bible commands us to honor and respect governmental authority. We should be law-abiding citizens (Romans 13:1-7). The Bible is equally concerned with making rulers and powerful people accountable to care for the poor and needy in society. The Old Testament prophets were constantly voicing God’s anger with the way the rich and powerful exploited the poor. As Amos said, “There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts… Seek good, not evil that you may live” (Amos 5:12-13).

Finally, how we handle living through a disaster can depend a lot on our own character. Spiritual strength is not built in the urgent moments of the tragedy. Spiritual strength comes in the day-to-day and week-to-week disciplines of the Christian spirit. The best way to be prepared spiritually to handle such a disaster is to be a faithful follower of Jesus when there is no urgency. Pray, study scripture and obey God’s commands, participate in church and in service to your community, let God make your faith grow. As you do these things, your spiritual strength will grow. If disaster comes to your town, you will be better prepared to respond with love and grace and not simply react in fear. This is the way of Jesus.

Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

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