The Christian Response to Disaster

Hurricane Matthew has devastated whole communities—from Haiti and the Caribbean to the U.S. East Coast. In Syria, a war is raging that is killing men, women, and children alike. Part of Nigeria faces a severe famine. The pain of all this is completely overwhelming. It can make us feel completely helpless. We all know that a single person cannot fix the world’s problems. But to sit idly is equally wrong. How should we as Christians respond?

Unity in Belief

When we as Christians face a crisis of any kind, we must lean on our beliefs. Indeed, right theology results in right actions. We have a theology for crises. It starts with trust in a God who desires order.

If you look at the book of Genesis from an ancient Near Eastern perspective, you see that many of God’s creative acts are about bringing order to chaos. Take a look at the third day of creation:

“And God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven be gathered to one place, and let the dry ground appear.’ And it was so. And God called the dry ground ‘earth,’ and he called the collection of the waters ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:9–10 LEB).

In the ancient Near East, water was the ultimate symbol of chaos. In several ancient Near Eastern myths, gods tangle with the waters to show themselves superior. But for our God, the Israelite God Yahweh, this is an easy task. He rules over these forces of chaos.

Later, Adam and Eve are appointed to steward God’s creation; God instructs them to bring order as he had done (Genesis 1:28). Our mandate as people, from the beginning, is to believe in a God who creates order and to bring the same order to our world.

Solidarity in Prayer

We serve a God who walks with us. Even when Adam and Eve sin against Yahweh, he is walking in the Garden in the cool of the day—he is seeking them out (Genesis 3:8–9). God doesn’t need a relationship with us, but he desires one. Today, we continue the conversation with God through prayer—having Christ as the means of a restored relationship with God (Hebrews 4:14–16).

When we see the pain of our world, we must acknowledge that it exists because things are not as they should be. The order that God desires is not fully present. Everything from natural disasters to warfare to famines can in some way be traced back to things being out of alignment with God’s ultimate will for the world.

This is why Paul the Apostle says:

“For the eagerly expecting creation awaits eagerly the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation has been subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its servility to decay, into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19–21 LEB).

In Paul’s era, many Jews were looking forward to a day when the Messiah would not just reign in Israel but restore order to the created world. They looked forward to a Messianic age. We have this same hope in the Lord Jesus—knowing that he will return and bring order:

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ ” (Revelation 21:1–4).

We must, like the apostles, pray for new creation for our entire world. We must pray, “Come, Lord Jesus come,” while also crying out, “Lord Jesus, please stand alongside the hurting of our world. And help me to be a person who stands alongside them with you.”

Camaraderie in Action

The gospel of Jesus requires us to take action. We cannot idly watch the state of our world and still call ourselves Christians. This is incompatible with Jesus’ theology. Jesus makes this clear when he says: “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me” (Mark 9:37 NKJV). The Letter of James also articulates this idea:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27 ESV).

Note that James does not just speak of right action, but also a right spirit—being “unstained from the world.” In essence, he is saying that if we love the hurting, there is little room for the idleness that leads to sin (compare James 1:13–15).

For James, we—as those who bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27)—are representatives of God’s goodness to a broken and hurting world:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:16–18 ESV).

Therefore, as “firstfruits” of God’s labor, let us take action that represents him.

Let us as Christians be unified in our belief in the God of order. Let us have solidarity in our prayer, asking God to intercede on behalf of the hurting. Let us have camaraderie in action—serving the hurting together.

John Barry
John Barry


CEO and Founder of Jesus' Economy. John is the General Editor of the highly acclaimed Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary. His new book is Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. It is widely endorsed by Christian leaders from around the world.