On Boxing Day, 26 December 2004, a natural disaster of stupendous proportions occurred. An earthquake registering nine on the Richter scale shook the seabed off the western shores of the Indonesian province of Aceh. A fault line 1200 kilometres long suddenly gave way, slipping twenty feet and creating tsunamis which devastated the coasts of Sri Lanka, Thailand and Sumatra, with the known loss of over 250,000 lives at the time of writing. Large numbers of foreign nationals also perished, as many popular tourist resorts line the tropical shores affected.

Questions have arisen in the press as to what involvement God had in such a calamity. For some it is proof there is no God because He did not intervene, while others in despair have said all we can do is pray. Some here expressed the view that it is Divine retribution on an unheeding, sinful, hedonistic world; while the opinion of some apologists for God have said that, while He is a God of love, He does not have the power to stop such natural occurrences! In the general confusion there does not appear to be an understanding of the nature and the character of the God of the Bible, the God of Israel, the great Creator of the heaven and the earth.

The Bible clearly reveals that God is a God of love, willing that none should perish, and taking no pleasure in the death of the wicked (1 John 4:8; 2 Pet 3:9; Ezek 18:23). But His love and salvation are conditional: God is just and He loves judgment and this sometimes means that men and nations have suffered for their sins. Upon specific request God revealed His character to Moses, “The Lord, The Lord God [Yahweh, Yahweh El], merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty…” So after a preponderance of emphasis on His mercy and goodness, there is in conclusion the qualification that those who ignore Him and His commandments will pay the price; they are “guilty” and will not be “cleared”. Behold, the goodness and severity of God (Rom 11:22). Who can demur at such a glorious revelation of hope and justice to fallen man, and the outworking of this character in the supreme demonstration of His love for the world in sending His only begotten Son, that man might have eternal life? (John 3:16)

There is, tragically, ignorance of God’s ways. He does hold man accountable, especially so since the sending forth of His Son and the promulgation of the gospel to all nations (Acts 17:30–31).

It has even been suggested that the God of the Old Testament is not the God of the New, because He wrought great destruction upon Noah’s generation, destroyed Sodom with fire and brimstone, and commanded that Israel “destroy utterly” the Canaanites. But even a cursory reading of the New Testament will demonstrate that the same God, consistent in all His ways, is in evidence in the whole of the Bible. Remember that Jesus, the Son of God, made reference to the flood of Noah’s day and the obliteration of Sodom and attributed them to the God of Heaven, his Father. And not only so but he declared that these cataclysmic events were a warning to the generation living in the last days and that an even greater outpouring of judgment would overtake it! (Luke 17:26–30; 2 Thess 1:6–10; 2:8)

But what does this mean in relation to the tsunami disaster? God is omniscient: He knows all things and that this earthquake was about to happen. He is omnipotent: He is the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth and therefore could have intervened to prevent the huge loss of human life. But He chose not to do so. Why?

Have men respect for the Word of God, the Bible, or have they not rather dismissed its message as irrelevant to their lives and gone their own ways? And what about His commandments, for example, about fornication and adultery? Do they regard and live according to His laws? And what about His people Israel, as yet truly in unbelief of the Messiahship of Jesus? How are they regarded? In general Jews are and have been despised and yet they are, says God, “my people” and the apple of my eye!

The reality is that we live in a godless world bent on self-gratification and given to materialism. God, His Word, His Son, His Laws and His people are ignored or despised. Can it be that God is in debt to man, or is it not true that man is “guilty” and in no position to be “cleared”?

Is it not true that the unprecedented disaster that has shocked the world could be viewed as an act of mercy, a warning from God of even greater troubles to come? Now is the time for men to “consider their ways” and to make amends. The Bible makes it clear that the day of blessedness when Christ will reign in righteousness over all nations will be preceded by times of trouble such as the world has never experienced (Dan 12:1). The events of recent times are a warning and foretaste of judgments which will see the over-bearing pride of man humbled, as a precursor to the establishment of Christ as King in Jerusalem. For example, consider the following: “the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and Yahweh alone shall be exalted in that day… And they [men] shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of Yahweh, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth” (Isa 2:11, 19).

As to the question of whether those who perished were sinners above other men—clearly they were not. Jesus had a question put to him about Galileans who were slain by Pontius Pilate, “Were they sinners above all Galileans because they suffered such things?” His answer is of immense significance and relevance to us and our generation: “I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Effectively he is telling us that the end result for those who perished in the tsunami and those who are alive is essentially the same, unless there is repentance.

The warning is clear for us who are alive to take heed to our ways, to rekindle our love and appreciation for the precious truths we have received, to thank God for our calling and to dedicate our lives to His service.

“And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting [gluttony], and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:34–36).

Men today have a lop-sided view of God. They have forgotten that “he cometh to judge the earth”, and that “with righteousness he shall judge the world, and the people with equity” (Psa 98:9).

It is then important to understand God in a time of trouble and it is essential to know Him if we aspire to eternal life: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” So Jesus Christ the Son of God said (John 17:3).