Were Typhoon Ondoy and Pepeng Acts of God?

October 11, 2009 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  The unprecedented rains and floods brought about by Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng left behind in their wake hundreds dead and billions of pesos worth of damage to life and property. The question now that many people are asking is this, “Where is God? and “Are these acts of God?” Car Insurance companies have a ready answer for this and they are the quickest to say, “Yes, these horrendous occurrences can only be attributed to Acts of God.” I won’t dwell on this because it is quite obvious where their motive is in saying this. Many however, who are not likewise selfishly motivated would like to shield God from any blame. Their conscience would not allow them to “blame” God because they have always known that” God is love” and that He is always good. And so instead of blaming God, they are quick to point the accusing finger to people whom they feel should be held accountable for these disasters. For example: Last week (in The Philippine Star, October 5, 2009), Environment Secretary Lito Atienza blamed Laguna Lake Development Authority general manager Edgardo Manda for reneging on his duty to dismantle several fish pens two years ago in Laguna de Bay. He said, “Hindi ako magdadalawang isip na idemanda si Manda.” MMDA chairman and former Marikina City Mayor Bayani Fernando said, “Walang kasalanan ang Diyos rito. Ako ang inyong sisihin. Ako ang may kasalanan.” An Act of God? by Dean Andy Bautista The Philippine Star (10/10/2009) [C]an the rains and floods truly be attributable to [Acts of God]? Without a doubt, the amount of rain was extraordinary. But wasn’t this extraordinariness brought about by climate change and global warming which in turn was caused by the collective abuse of the environment by humankind? Similarly, were the floods really an Act of God? Rains come from the heavens but floods are made on earth. We all know that the floods happened because of the following: a) poor urban planning; b) clogged drainage; c) illegal structures; and d) the opening of dams and floodgates – all of which were done by the descendants of Adam and Eve. Here’s another one. This time the blame is directed to “Mother nature” (as if nature had a will!)   What Have We Done to Deserve This? by Babe Romualdez The Philippine Star (10/04/2009) …when tragedy occurs, it’s not unusual for people to ask: “What have we done to deserve this?” They will also look for someone to blame: the indiscriminate cutting down of trees by illegal loggers; the bulldozing of mountains to make way for subdivisions; the hardheadedness of people living along riverbanks and creek sides who treat the water as their public toilet; the proliferation of illegal fish pens in Laguna Bay; and other activities that have contributed to the degradation of our environment. Obviously, the recent disaster is Mother Nature’s way of exacting her revenge on the people because they have not taken care of the environment. The flooding we experienced is a demonstration of the immutable law of nature: that sooner or later, any abuse will come back to us a hundredfold. The whole world is guilty of this abuse, with people engaging in activities that have altered our atmosphere and destroyed the ozone layer. Massive industrialization has led to the insatiable demand for coal and fossil fuels, so much so that global warming and climate change are now upon us.   Insurance companies are quick to say, “These are acts of God.” Most people would like to shield God from blame and point to man as the culprit. There are however those who are more honest about their ignorance and say, they don’t know. Listen to this article from Isagani Cruz of Philippine Daily Inquirer:   A Little Girl’s Question by Isagani A. Cruz Philippine Daily Inquirer (10/10/2009)   “WHERE IS GOD?” The little girl on the front page of the Inquirer last Tuesday asked. She said it innocently, without rancor, with the childlike faith that she would receive an honest answer amidst the desolation and misery caused by typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng.” I do not have an answer to that question, but the priests and the nuns and all those nearer to God can perhaps give you a believable explanation.   I am no priest, and obviously not a nun, but I believe I can qualify to be one nearer to God, not because of my good works, but only by the grace of God. In fact, anyone who repents of his sin and puts his trust in Jesus Christ is reconciled to God and is united to Christ. And here is not only a believable explanation for the calamities but a biblical one. As I try to answer the question, “Were Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng Acts of God?” I would like to point out to you the basis for my answer.   At a time like this when people are confronted with questions that test the very foundations of their faith, we need answers that are totally reliable and true because they come from absolute authority. We are confident in declaring our position on this issue because we know that our answer is based on the highest authority, which is the Word of God, the Bible. Look at what the Bible claims for itself.   2 Timothy 3:16-17   All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  17  that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. Here is another passage on which I base my confidence. Psalms 119:98-100   Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.  99  I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.  100  I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. This tells us that a person who knows the Bible has a an advantage over those who do not know it. In the question, “Are calamities acts of God?” the Bible-believer has better answers that the intellectuals of this age and the environment experts. And so let me go back to the original question: “Were Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng Acts of God?” The Bible’s clear answer to this is Yes! Calamities (which includes Ondoy and Pepeng) are acts of God! Let me read to you what the Bible says:
  • Isaiah 45:7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. [Many Christians today would never say that calamities come from God because of John 10:10 where Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This is true but the statement in Isaiah 45:7 is equally true. We are not to be selective in the truths we are to believe from the Bible. We should believe everything that the Bible says about God.]
  • Isaiah 31:2a And yet he is wise and brings disaster. [God’s ways are inscrutable. We may not understand why disasters are brought by the Lord but let us not forget that it is in perfect wisdom that He sends them!]
  • Amos 3:6   … Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? [Would storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” have come to the Philippines unless God did it? This is not a blasphemous statement. This is a biblical application of the principle in Amos 3:6.]
  • Lamentations 3:38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?
Listen to what Job said when calamites came to his life:
  • Job 1:21 And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." [Note that Job said it was the Lord who took away his possessions and children.]
  • Job 2:10 But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. [Note that the inspired commentator said that Job did not sin in his statements about God. Neither should we say that Job sinned.]
  • Job 42:11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil [ESV footnote, “Or disaster”] that the LORD had brought upon him… [Take note that the inspired commentator said that it was the Lord who brought the “disaster” to come upon Job. While it is true that Satan had a part in the calamities that came to Job (Job 1:12), Satan was kept on a leash. He could only act and do harm on God’s permission. This makes God the primary or ultimate source of the calamites.]
In Isaiah 41 God challenges the idols and the people by telling them to do good or harm. Isaiah 41:21-24   Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.  22  Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come.  23  Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified.  24  Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. [What God is saying is that only if the idols can do good or harm as God does will they be able to prove that they are truly gods. God said this because only the true God can bring good or harm. A good example of this is the case of Israel when the Lord brought them out of Egypt to the Promised Land. God poured down His ten plagues on Egypt and divided the Red Sea and let His people cross unharmed. He provided them with manna from heaven for about 40 years. He gave them water and meat in the wilderness. Who among the idols or so-called gods could do these things? No one, of course.]   Now, all of those passages that I have read are examples of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and God’s providence.   What does providence mean? The word ‘providence’, though not found in the Bible, is commonly used to describe God’s controlling and governing of all things. He maintains the universe and cares for his creatures according to his perfect love, wisdom and power. He directs all affairs, small and great, according to his purposes and brings them to their appointed goal. Here is a sampling of God’s complete providence in governing the world.
  • “I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1Kings 17:4)
  • “The Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah” (Jonah 4:6).
  • “God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered” (Jonah 4:7).
  • “I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants” (Exodus 8:21).
  • “He summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread” (Psalm 105:16).
  • “He gave them hail for rain” (Psalm 105:32).
  • “He spoke, and the locusts came” (Psalm 105:34).
  • “The Lord will whistle for . . . the bee that is in the land of Assyria” (Isaiah 7:18).
  • “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33).
  • “Even the wind and the sea obey him” (Mark 4:41).
  • “He removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21).
  • “He even commands the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:27).
  • “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).
One of the most beautiful definition of God’s providence is found in the Heidelberg Catechism: What do you mean by the providence of God? (Question 27) The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand. Because of this understanding of divine providence, Charles Haddon Spurgeon could say, I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche. The believers of the past cherished the doctrine of God’s providence. It brought great comfort to the believers and encouraged them to persevere in the midst of great “storms” in their lives. The 28th Question and Answer in Heidelberg Catechism tells us the advantage of knowing this doctrine: What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence does still uphold all things? (Question 28) That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move. Note: All things and all people are in the hands of the living God. This does not however mean that people are excused for their sins and put the blame on God’s providence. People are moral beings and God holds them responsible for all their actions
  • Luke 22:22 ESV  For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!"
  • Acts 2:23 ESV  this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
  • Acts 4:27-28 ESV  for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,  28  to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
  More important than answering the question “Are calamities acts of God?” are the lessons that we learn from calamities.

Lessons that we can learn from these calamities:

Because of God’s great wisdom it is possible that God has hundreds or even thousands of lessons for man to learn from these calamities. But let me give you what I believe are some of them:

1.   Calamities call us to believe in the existence of a powerful, holy, and just God.

  • Psalm 14:1a The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."
  • Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
  • Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
  I have no doubt that atheists who were caught in the raging flood were suddenly converted to God-believers. I doubt that when their homes, or their children were being swept by the strong current that they said, “Oh, this is all chance.” I am sure that many of them cried out, “God, save me! God save my family! God save our home! God have mercy on us!”

2.   Calamities are God’s megaphone to tell us that something is dreadfully wrong in the world.

C.S. Lewis: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  
  • Acts 2:40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked"
  • Philippians 2:15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

3.   Calamities remind us of how horrible sin is.

John Piper said: “Calamities, with all of its horrors, wake us up from the dreamworld of thinking sin is no big deal. It is a horrifically big deal. God subjected the natural world under a curse so that the physical horrors we see around us in diseases and calamities would become a vivid picture of how horrible sin is.”   Romans 8:20-22   For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  21  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  22  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

4.   Calamities remind us to take more seriously what the Bible says.

Reread passages like Luke 21:5-28 with a new perspective. Take passages like this one more seriously. Could it be that what is happening right now is part of the end time events which Christ predicted. 

5.   Calamities are God’s previews of what sin deserves and will one day receive in judgment a thousand times worse.

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9  …when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels  8  in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  9  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, I think that the kind of suffering that one will experience when God begins punishing sinners is going to be worse than all the calamities put together. Just imagine this. Sinners in hell are going to suffer being burned in a lake of fire, away from the presence, mercy and grace of God, forever! What could be worst than this?

6.   Calamities are a merciful call from God for the living to repent.

  • Luke 13:4-5 Or 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?  5  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
  • Amos 4:6-11 "I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me," declares the LORD.  7  "I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither;  8  so two or three cities would wander to another city to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me," declares the LORD.  9  "I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me," declares the LORD.  10  "I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me," declares the LORD.  11  "I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me," declares the LORD.
  • Revelation 16:9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
Several weeks ago, when storm Ondoy was ravaging communities in Metro Manila, those from Pangasinan, Benguet, and other portions of Northern Luzon did not learn the lesson that the Lord was bringing to them, which was to repent of their sins or else they too will perish. After turning off their televisions and radios which reported the horrible effects of the storms and floods, they went back to their businesses as usual. Few perhaps realized that just after a few days, Pepeng would bring greater devastation to many of their communities. Now, after we’ve seen what has happened to Luzon with these two storms are we going to go back to our usual routines or are we going to reflect deeply, rearrange our priorities, and repent of our sins and return to our Lord and Savior? Let us do this while we still have time. Let us not forget, we who live in Davao City, that we may not be living in a typhoon belt, but we are in an earthquake belt. And Jesus predicted that many great earthquakes will come. Please do not say that calamities are very unlikely to come to us. While we have time, let us repent of our sins and put our trust in Christ alone. Maybe some of us are asking, “Lord, why did you allow those calamities to happen in Luzon? What did they do to deserve this?” These are the wrong questions to ask. We should rather ask, “Lord, why did those calamites not happen to us here in Davao City? We have many unsolved murders here. We have one of the fastest growing cults in our country here? Perhaps, many of us here have been more sinful than many of those in Luzon. Why have you spared us?” Because God has been extending his patience towards us, let us repent quickly and run to Jesus, His Son. Let us do it now while we have opportunity.

7.   Calamities remind the followers of Jesus to look for their greatest joy and treasure in Christ and in things heavenly rather than earthly.

  1. Believers are reminded that they are just pilgrims here on earth.
Hebrews 11:13-16   These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  14  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  15  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  16  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
  1. Believers are reminded that only the Lord is the source of true and lasting joy.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 ESV  Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,  18  yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. Philippians 3:8   Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Romans 8:35-37   Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  36  As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."  37  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Let us take heed to God for He is speaking loudly and clearly in these calamities. Let us not miss the lessons that God wants us to learn.