Spirituality Magazine

God's Providence in the Face of Mega-disasters

By Elizabethprata @elizabethprata

God's Providence in the face of mega-disasters


In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan decimating much of the Philippines last week, the AP has put together a list of the deadliest disasters of the last decade in which the death toll was higher than Haiyan's.
I thought it would be interesting to look at the data regarding natural disasters in different aspects. Which are the ten worst natural disasters? Is there a particular nation that has endured the burden of more disasters than neighboring nations? In light of the fact that Jesus and the Apostles said that the times would be getting worse and worse, and the disasters that would come will be like birth pangs (which grow worse in frequency and intensity), let's take a look.
On a personal note, each time a terrible disaster occurs and people and animals die, or horrible property destruction occurs, it is very hard to watch on the news. Knowing the destiny of those who are saved is a blessing, but alternately, knowing the destiny of those who are not saved, who die in these disasters on a mass scale, is a burden to any Christian's soul. However, it is as Jesus says. No matter what the data shows, the times will wax worse and worse, and His hand will lift in restraint and then judgment will come.
The exercise to review the disaster data is not just a mental exercise. Each person who dies in a terrible disaster is an immortal soul. (Genesis 2:7; Matthew 10:28). As you consider the last days disasters, please allow the Spirit to increase the urgency in you to witness, live for Christ, and pray.
Comparison of natural disasters of the last decade
Typhoon Haiyan is feared to have killed more than 10,000 people in the Philippines. Here are the natural disasters in the last decade that had higher death tolls:

— March 11, 2011: A magnitude-9.0 earthquake off northeastern Japan causes a tsunami that sweeps onto the coast. About 19,000 people are killed and three nuclear reactors melt at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.

— Jan. 12, 2010: A 7.0 earthquake devastates Haiti's capital and surrounding cities, killing 314,000 people.

— May 12, 2008: A 7.9 temblor in China's Sichuan province kills 87,000 people. A disproportionate number of them were children killed when their shoddily built schools collapsed.

— May 2, 2008: The storm surge from Cyclone Nargis washes up densely populated areas around the Irrawaddy River delta in Myanmar, washing away whole farming villages. Around 138,000 people died.

— Oct. 8, 2005: A 7.6 earthquake kills about 80,000 people in northwestern Pakistan and Kashmir.

— Dec. 26, 2004: A 9.1 earthquake off western Indonesia triggers a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, killing 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

— Dec. 26, 2003: A 6.6 earthquake flattens the historic city of Bam in southeastern Iran, and some 26,000 people are killed.

God's Providence in the face of mega-disasters

Victims of the flooding in August 1931, Wikipedia

Wikipedia has lists of the worst natural disasters. In the first set, they list the worst ever disasters over all recorded time. I had not known that in 1931, 1 million to 4 million people died in China during floods. As a matter of fact, five of the ten listed worst disasters ever occurred in China. More here.
Of the ten worst disasters since 1900, again, half of those occurred in China, with only two overlapping from the above list. The top one is that aforementioned flood that killed -4 million people. The second worst disaster since 1900 was an earthquake, again in China, that killed 650,000–779,000 people. It was in 1976 in Tangshan.
Did you know that 4,000 people died in 1972 in Iran from the world's deadliest blizzard? I didn't either. Of the ten worst blizzards, 50% have occurred in the United States.

God's Providence in the face of mega-disasters

Galveston 1900 hurricane aftermath, Wikipedia

Of the worst tropical cyclone, which Typhoon Haiyan doesn't even come close, half a million people died in 1970 in Bhola, India. As a matter of fact, 60% of the worst cyclones with high death tolls have occurred in India. A majority of these disasters occurred prior to 1900, which it stands to reason because the more primitive weather prediction services and technology didn't afford much time to evacuate.
The 1900 Galveston Hurricane in Texas USA caused the deaths of about 8,000 and birthed the modern Weather Service. The book Isaac's Storm was a tremendous non-fiction book covering both the storm and the men who valiantly tracked the storm and the aftermath of the impact on the then-nascent weather service. Many people say it was that storm which lurched the Weather Service into modern times.
Avalanches are a danger and a hazard, too. The 1970 Huascarán avalanche; triggered by the 1970 Ancash earthquake, killed 20,000 people. In 1950-51 The Swiss were held hostage to terror, a winter they still call the "Winter of Terror".
"The Winter of Terror was the three-month period during the winter of 1950-1951 when a previously unrecorded number of avalanches took place in the Alps. The series of 649 avalanches killed over 265 people and caused large amounts of damage to residential and other human-made structures."
That is an average of 216 avalanches per month, or an average of 7 per day. Can you imagine living with that much terror and uncertainty? A terror where a mountain full of snow may come sweeping down into your house as you sleep, burying you alive?
Nothing gets people looking for the meaning of life like an earthquake. The hits on my blog rise dramatically when a large earthquake occurs. Maybe it is that primal terror of even the seemingly solid ground under your feet swaying and opening its chasm like hell enlarging its mouth that strikes such fear. (Isaiah 5:14). People go looking for answers in large numbers when an earthquake hits.

God's Providence in the face of mega-disasters


In any case, here China is the beleaguered recipient of a major disaster, three-times over. Holding the  place for location of the top three worst earthquakes ever is China once again. 830,000 people died in the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake in 1556, 650,000–779,000 died in the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, and 273,400 died in 1920 in the Haiyuan earthquake.
You can go on and look at the Wikipedia page for lists and explanations of the other worst disasters, like floods/landslides (China holds the top 4 places); deadliest heat waves (the top two occurred after 2000); lightning strikes, storms and the like.
I enjoy learning about the Providence of God. I am fascinated with that doctrine. It relates to His sovereignty and how God orders, ordains, or allows everything that occurs to occur, for His plan and His glory. It is a hard concept, especially when you think of all the terrible storms and disasters that occur. It is also hard when you think about evil. Why is there evil? Why do these things happen? Phil Johnson speaks of Providence a lot. He preached about it recently at the Strange Fire conference, but prior to that, he preached on the doctrine of God's providence the week before the conference as he was preparing. The conference sermon was terrific, I recommend it. I also recommend the sermon he preached to his Sunday School group the week prior. In that sermon, Pastor Johnson specifically addresses questions like the ones I've raised today, about evil, and how evil fits into God's plan, and about all the things that happen, from mega-disasters to the hairs on your head (and when God allows each one to fall out.) God is in the little things as much as He is in the disasters.
His sermon at the conference is called Providence IS Remarkable. There is a transcript available in case you can't listen or watch video. The sermon that relates more closely with the issues in this essay today is "The Master of My Fate." Again, there is a transcript.
God's Providence in the face of mega-disasters
God is in control. When you see a disaster occur, remember God and obey Him. Also when you don't see a disaster happen, remember God and obey Him. When a hair falls out of your head, or when your car starts in the morning, or when you eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, remember God and obey Him. Most importantly, remember the lost people who do not have the privilege and comfort of knowing that a loving God hods them in the palm of His hand.
Everyday Providence should make us urgent to witness, but sometimes we grow lax. I know I do. When we see a disaster like Tropical Typhoon Haiyan, it jogs us again. When they occur, floods of souls arrive in hell. Keep that visual in your mind. The ones who arrive in hell during a disaster outnumber greatly the ones who arrive in heaven. Hell must enlarge its mouth to receive them. Therefore, disasters are as much God speaking to Christians as it is to the lost.

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