And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave.Earlier today I chanced across the writing of someone commenting on the earthquake in Japan who said that natural disasters are caused by God. That was said without any qualification at all. I'd like to offer a different perspective.
Are disasters ever caused by God? I think Christians would generally agree that at least sometimes they are. Consider the sack of Jerusalem which Jesus predicted would fall on the city and the generation that had rejected him, and how Jerusalem was destroyed not long afterwards. It didn't even have to be a natural disaster. God can arrange events so that even armies of idol-worshipers could serve his purpose.
But I must object when someone looks at an earthquake and says, "The LORD is in the earthquake." The LORD wasn't in Elijah's earthquake. It does no good to say "God is omnipresent" -- he still wasn't in Elijah's earthquake. Had he stopped being omnipresent? Not at all; but God still wasn't in the earthquake. He was in the still, small voice. Those who look for God in the earthquake are going to miss that still, small voice. Those who are drawn to God's power -- or feel obliged to proclaim and defend God's power -- can miss that he often chooses gentleness. When we see God in the earthquake, it's only a short step to blaming the victims, becoming Job's comforters to those who may not deserve such treatment. And we miss that God may not have been in the earthquake. So through the earthquake, wind, and fire, it takes discernment to realize that the voice of God may be the still, small voice.
Jesus reminded us that disasters are not necessarily God's retribution.
Or those eighteen people upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, do you think that they were sinners above all men in Jerusalem? I tell you: they were not. (Luke 13:4-5)Jesus leaves us free to see the cause for that tower's collapse as simply gravity. I think he also leaves us free to look for the cause of the earthquake in natural causes.