Think Hurricanes, Think Labor Pains, Think Sin
It is a terrible thing when people suffer from natural disasters, but it is also a tragedy when we miss the point of them. Yes – there is a point, a sovereignly designed point. As people in the south continue to deal with the damage caused by Hurricane Isaac, what are we to think about why such things happen? Better yet, why does God allow these horrible events to occur? That is the question everyone loves to ask, but is it the best question to ask? We will see, but thankfully we do not have to wonder without direction. God’s Word is not silent on the issue although it still remains a very difficult question.
When we see hurricanes and typhoons or any other natural calamity, as Christians, we should think – labor pains. Labor pains of course imply there is a birth coming, in this case, the birth of a new world. Now without getting into the whole pre-, post-, or a-millennium debate, here is what I mean.
One day this defective world in which we live will give way to a new world; one in which Jesus will reign and all wrongs will be made right. Jesus himself described it as he spoke to his disciples in Mark 13:8 saying “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” The words “new world” (palingenesia) literally means regeneration or new birth and is only found twice in the New Testament; the other being in Titus 3:5. In Titus, the term is used in a spiritual sense regarding the conversion process by which one becomes a “new creature” in Christ.
We get another clue from Jesus regarding this idea of the coming new world when he references the end times in Matthew 19:28 (and it is also one place where I get the idea of labor pains). Jesus said, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
So in these two verses alone, we find the truth that there will be a new world or “regeneration” and that prior to that, there will be troubles which Jesus describes as “birth pains.” While he does not go into great detail about what all of this means, the apostle Paul fills in the blanks. Before we go any further though, let me remind us of our question and after reading the passages above we may now ask it with more detail. Why does the creation have to experience the suffering of these “birth pains?” We are getting close to answering but let us look at what Paul adds to the discussion first to help our thinking a bit more. Romans 8:20-23 provides the clearest understanding of what I am talking about.
 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
As you linger on what Paul is saying I hope you pick up on some key terms and ideas. First, it is critical to note that in verse 20 when Paul says “the creation,” he is referring to both the physical universe in which we live as well as humanity (verses 22 and 23 address each separately). Second, notice that the creation, all of it including us, was subjected to futility. Immediate question: By whom? Read on and you will see that God subjected it. Yes, God. How do I know that? Because the creation was subjected “in hope;” and neither Satan nor man can subject anything “in hope.”
Second question, what does Paul mean by futility? From the context of the entire passage we can see there are three other terms that are synonymous with futility that help to see his meaning. One is “bondage to corruption,” one is “groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” and the last is “groan inwardly.” So we can understand humanity as being subjected to a corrupted nature or “dead in our sins” (Ephesians 2) just the same as the physical world has been subjected to a flawed existence.
Both conditions result in the need to be fixed and neither the world nor humans have the ability to self-correct. Hence, humanity and nature need a “new birth.” With that, we are starting to make the connection between what Jesus said and what Paul is talking about. If we keep it together in our minds, we can now pose our overarching question with the full force it deserves. Why did God subject his once perfect creation to a diseased condition that has caused and will continue to cause such horrible destruction and suffering?
I believe that is a good question with right Biblical thinking behind it. So what is the answer? Well, let us go back to the beginning, that is, “In the beginning.” Genesis 3 describes what is rightly called “the Fall.” Adam and Eve profaned the perfection of God’s creation by disobeying God and introducing sin into the world. As the first man, Adam represented all of mankind before God. When he sinned, all of humanity fell. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Listen to God address them after their treason:
 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”  And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
Contemplate if you will the effects of our first father and mother’s sin. God could have wiped the slate clean right then and there and started over, but he did not. God could have enforced a temporary punishment that would have applied only to Adam and Eve, but he did not. The reason God did not do either of these things, but instead subjected his entire creation to futility was because of SIN.
Think of Adam and Eve’s sin, but move on. Think of the whole world’s sin, but do not stay there either. Think of today’s society of sin, but continue. Keep thinking about sin until your thoughts land squarely in your own lap and your own sin, and in my own lap and my own sin and then and only then are we very near the answer to our question.
Whether or not we choose to view it through a Biblical lens is up to us, but let us not miss the point. The moral outrage of a perfectly just and righteous God over sin is in our face every day. God chose to give us touchable, seeable, feel-able, real-world parables in the form of hurricanes or tsunamis or earthquakes to show us the way he feels about sin. We will continue to see and feel these things until Jesus returns and makes all things new and the labor pains bring forth perfection once again.
I will close all of this with two passages.
The first is John writing of a vision in Revelation 16:7-8. Read what he wrote:
“ And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!”  The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire.  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.”
Yes, they missed the point.
Lastly, let us turn once again to Jesus’ own words regarding a disaster of his day. After having been asked questions that were no doubt very similar to our own regarding what seemed to be pointless suffering due to disaster, he answers in Luke 13 saying:
 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?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
If nothing else, please hear this. Do not get caught up in thinking someone’s or some city’s sin is the cause of their disaster. When we think like that we miss the point! Jesus would not hear of that type of thinking. Focus on his message for those of who did not experience the suffering this time: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”