by Tim Hall
The drought in the Southeastern United States continues to grow worse. Many areas are nearly 20 inches below normal for this time of the year. Wells and springs are drying up. Atlanta is concerned as the lake that supplies water for its residents could vanish in a matter of weeks. The situation is becoming a topic of daily conversations, and some of those conversations focus on God.
The Bible reveals that God has in times past sent suffering to awaken his people to their perilous spiritual condition. Amos 4, for example, speaks of such trials:
“‘Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places; yet you have not returned to me,’ says the Lord. ‘I also withheld rain from you, when there were still three months to harvest. … Yet you have not returned to me,’ says the Lord” (Amos 4:6-8, NKJV).
What some might have called “natural disasters” were actually God-directed. There are many examples to be found in the Old Testament.
But what about today? Does God continue to use such methods? Can we say that the present drought or other natural calamities are sent from God to get our attention?
One passage that should guide our thoughts is Hebrews 12:5-7:
“And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?”
We do not contend that every instance of suffering is from God. We sometimes bring the suffering upon ourselves by foolish or sinful choices. Such choices can also bring pain upon the innocent. The passage just quoted, however, makes it clear that God does discipline his children. If we rejoice in being his sons and daughters, then we must also expect to be disciplined by him.
How can we know when trouble is from God? We can’t know for certain. God does not communicate that information. But could that be a good thing? Whenever we suffer we are given the opportunity to reflect on our standing with God. Pain gives me a chance to ask: “Is God trying to tell me something? Have I ‘fallen asleep at the wheel’ and need to be awakened?”
Let us not blame God for every bad thing that happens in our lives. Neither let us go to the other extreme by saying that no suffering is from God. If he loves us, he’s going to discipline us.