“The earth is utterly broken,
the earth is torn asunder,
the earth is violently shaken.
20 The earth staggers like a drunkard,
it sways like a hut;
its transgression lies heavy upon it,
and it falls, and will not rise again.” (Isaiah 24:19-20 NRSV)
In 2010, a massive earthquake hit the island of Haiti. Haiti has no building codes, and so construction standards are low. For example, concrete was often watered down in construction to keep costs low—sometimes in desperate circumstances, and sometimes to make extra money for the contractors. The damage to buildings from the quake would have been extensive in the best of circumstances, but in Haiti, it was catastrophic. Afterwards, engineers stated that it was unlikely that many of the buildings would have stood through any kind of disaster. Many people were left homeless, infrastructure was decimated, and shortages of fuel and drinkable water were made more extreme.
When natural disasters hit, there are often voices that say that they are God’s way of punishing the people who live in a certain place. But as we look at the pictures, we wonder what the innocents who are often the ones suffering could possibly have done to deserve such suffering, and we know that it can’t be that simple.
What these disasters will do, however, is shine a light on the sinfulness of humanity, and often bringing to light the ways in which we do not live as God would have us live. The shine lights on the greed of shoddy construction and price-gouging merchants. This demonstrates the inequality between those with the means to leave the area and those who are forced to stay and hope for the best. They point to the ways in which we have not cared for the world.
Scripture tells us that the earth is broken, and we need to take a hard look at the ways in which that brokenness is caused—not by the anger of a vengeful God, but by the brokenness of a sinful humanity. Disasters are not God’s will for the world, but they are a part how God created the world.
“Then the moon will be abashed,
and the sun ashamed;
for the Lord of hosts will reign
on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
and before his elders he will manifest his glory.” (Isaiah 24:23 NRSV)
The reality that creates the disasters are not God’s will for the world, and we see in these moments those glimpses of the world being exactly as God would have it be. When God’s people serve and help those who are in need—the cup of cold water or the cup of hot coffee; the rescue boat on the water or the search team digging through the rubble; the church that sets up as a shelter or the congregation sending funds to assist—these things can become the very manifestation of the glory of God in the world.
Whatever the disaster, whatever the horror, whatever we face, may we hold to the truth that God so loves this lost and broken world that God gave an only son to live in it, love it, and save it.