Yesterday’s news was disturbing to me. A massive earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria. The death toll so far is huge. The earthquake also struck at night during a winter storm in an area already ravaged by war. Why such a confluence of bad events? Was it unlucky or somehow intentional?
Why do bad events happen anyway? I can identify four sources. The first is human sin. We do terrible things to each other, because we are all corrupted with a sinful nature and then we can multiply that through evil institutions and mob behavior. The Syrian civil war is just that kind of quagmire. Syria like Iraq is an unnatural state created by previous colonial powers. It collects people groups that refuse to live together in peace under one government. This precipitated an oppressive government that finally caused outright rebellion. It has been a war that has been hard to take a side. First, there are so many of them. Then, none represent a group that could govern Syria in unity and fairness. Turkey has its own problems. In particular its relationship with the Kurds who live in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Without a doubt the war and what caused the war is sin, but possibly not just sin.
Another reason for disaster is the curse. The Bible speaks very briefly and vaguely about the curse. It is essentially a change to the way nature works that was initiated by human rebellion in the Garden of Eden. Does God place the curse? Does Satan create the curse? Did sin make it necessarily happen? You really can’t tell. To use a metaphor, I see it as God letting go of the steering wheel without leaving the car. Nature proceeds without being strictly controlled. In this situation perhaps the curse is the cause of a triple whammy: an earthquake, a winter storm, and night together. Maybe. If this is the case than this area was unlucky.
Another cause is Satan and beings aligned with Satan, namely demons. Many people dismiss such an idea as superstitious. The Bible clearly attests to the reality of this occupation. Satan has an axe to grind with God. Being incapable of direct conflict with God, Satan main target becomes the Jews (God’s original chosen people) and Christians.
17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.Revelation 12:17 (ESV)
There are precious few Christians or Jews in this area. This doesn’t mean Satan isn’t somehow involved. Satan hates humans in general. I have no doubt that Satan has some role in stoking the ugliness and confusion of the Syrian civil war. He could easily be responsible for adding to Turkish/Kurdish animosity. Can he cause the natural disasters? I’m not sure. I don’t know the scope of his abilities. Satan is clearly able to some things like this. The story of Job demonstrates Satan’s ability to knock over a building with wind, but I’m not sure how far it goes.
I final cause can be the wrath of God. God clearly judges nations. He created the Universe, so an earthquake in nothing. The absence, even the persecution, of Christians in this area makes it unlikely that they can be “salt” in this situation.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.Matthew 5:13 (ESV)
This verse is referring to how salt was added to the thank offerings brought to the temple. The salt represents added righteousness. Christians who live as disciples of Jesus can be added righteousness to an evil nation or area, making it temporarily acceptable and averting God’s wrath. It is similar to the Sodom and Gomorrah story (Genesis 18-19) where these cities could have been spared had there been just a few righteous people within them.
That said, I know of no prophetic warning to this area, but that wouldn’t completely discount a genuine wrath of God event.
While we cannot know for sure and are not given authority to judge, I would default to this terrible event being the result of sin (the war) and bad luck within the curse (earthquake, winter and night).
How should a Christian pray? We pray that lives be saved. We prayed that people be protected. We ask God to grab the wheel for this area for a while. Most people in this area are not prepared to face judgment. They don’t have Jesus. Pray that opportunities to know Jesus and see the power of God in Christ will happen for them. There will be terrible trials like this on Earth. We also pray that people do not draw the wrong conclusion about this situation–the conclusion that either God doesn’t exist, or He isn’t merciful, or He has abandoned the Earth.