Responding to Disasters

January 14, 2010

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is devastated. Thousands and thousands of buildings have collapsed. Tens of thousands are dead. Thousands more are injured and doomed to die, as hospitals too are destroyed and the needs outstrip the remaining medical care.

How can we respond to such a tragedy?

The Bible is our guide in all matters. In His Word, God tells us who He is, who we are, how He rules the world, and how we should respond to Him. He tells us what we could never learn on our own, what we would grope after and never find apart from His revelation.

So what guidance does the Bible give us?

First, we must weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). Our Lord wept over the coming judgment on Jerusalem (Luke 19:41); He wept at the grave of His friend, even though He was about to raise him from the dead (John 11:35). Ultimately, all sorrow and pain in this world is the result of sin – God’s initial creation was very good (Genesis 1:31). So let us weep over sin and its impact.

Second, we must pray. God works through prayer to bring about His purposes at all times (2 Corinthians 1:11), and so He exhorts us to pray about all our needs (Philippians 4:6).

Third, we must do what we can to help those in need (Luke 12:33). In so doing, we honor God (Proverbs 14:31), who has compassion on the poor and needy (Psalm 72:13). Now, in such situations we can do more harm than good – our attempts to help can hurt, as we noted earlier. So let us give to organizations that are cognizant of these dangers, who are working with local institutions, considering both the urgent relief needs and the longer term rehabilitation and development needs. Some suggestions (among many possibilities): Food for the Hungry, Child Hope International, and Water Missions International.

Fourth, we must take note of Jesus’ warning to those around Him as they considered a local tragedy:

“Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:4-5

Some people evidently were explaining the fall of the tower as God’s judgment on those eighteen people, saying that they deserved to die, and others (like themselves) did not. Jesus says, “Don’t think that way – but take the occasion of these deaths to examine yourself!” God’s judgment will come on all who do not repent (Romans 2:4-5) – and it will be much more terrible than the fall of the tower of Siloam, much more terrible than the Haiti earthquake, much more terrible than the Aceh tsunami (Revelation 6:15-17).

Fifth, we must remind ourselves of the Gospel. No one is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10-12). We all deserve God’s condemnation, His wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet God sent His Son to live the perfect life that we should have lived, loving God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength every minute of every day, loving His neighbor as Himself (Hebrews 4:15; Matthew 22:36-40); He sent Him to the cross to suffer and die, taking on Himself the penalty we deserve (2 Corinthians 5:21); and He raised Him from the dead, showing that the penalty was sufficient (Acts 2:24). We who believe in Him (John 1:12), valuing Him above all else (Matthew 13:44), receive the benefits of this death, and are united with Him for all eternity (Romans 6:4-5, 23).

Finally, we can rejoice that God is sovereign over all affairs of men. He is the Almighty One, who not only knows the number of hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30), but watches over and superintends all the events of my life, and of all the lives of those who are united in His Son (Psalm 1:6). So we can pray with the psalmist, “When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!” (Psalm 142:3). May our hurting brothers and sisters in Haiti know this truth, and lean on our Rock and our Refuge (Psalm 61:2-3).

May we, by His grace, be as He is in this world (1 John 4:17) – and thus, knowing our sinfulness, knowing our weakness, serve humbly as conduits of His mercy, His compassion, and His Word to the downtrodden and the needy.

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