“WHEN DISASTERS STRIKE”                                  By Pastor YAU

I Thessalonians 5:1-11                                                   January 9, 2005



       “While people are saying, ‘peace and safety,’ disaster (or destruction) will come on them suddenly,…and they will not escape.”  These were words spoken by the Apostle Paul to the people at Thessalonica some 2,000 years ago recorded in the Bible as quoted text for today’s message.  Words almost identical appeared as headlines of major news papers all across the world on December 27, 2004.  That was the unprecedented destruction of life and property cause by the killer tsunami on the day before, December 26, in North Indian Ocean.  The death toll so far has reached over 140,000 and still counting. Many of those who died were people taking vacations at Christmas and the New Year time. A supposedly happy vacation had turned into night mares and loss of everything.

       Most people, ancient or modern days, do not believe, or at least do not expect, disasters will come when life seems so peaceful and secured. They all focus on how to enjoy the present life and its fringe benefits with no idea that disasters or destruction will or could come on them without any warning.



       The Greek word, olethros, used in the text here is often translated destruction or disaster which carries a two-sides meaning:

a)     Separation: between the body and the soul which means death; between man and God which means eternal death; or between spouses in a marriage which means destruction of a family, between two persons which means breaking up of a friendship.

b)    To render useless: such as a broken container, a ruined house, a sick body or a piece of barren land, all are rendered useless to their original useful purposes.

The Bible has 191 records of “destruction” ranging from natural disasters like the tsunami, earth quakes and famines. It was also used on wars, deaths, destruction on families, good names, children or harvests. We may add many modern day life situations to the list as destruction by separation or being dysfunctional. When your doctor has bad news for you or someone close to you died in a car accident, just to name a few.



       In the text used today, words like “suddenly” and “thief in the night” tell us the unexpected element of disaster. Why many people think it is so unexpected?

a)   Man-made sense of security:  People are fooled or blinded by their own false sense of security that they can’t imagine anything bad would ever happen to them. The word “SECURITY” is used in modern day life to cover almost everything from insurance to investments to injury to life to professional practices and more. Many people feel they are well prepared and protected. Nothing bad could come to hurt them. They are so wrong.

b)  I don’t see anything wrong coming: Lots of people just don’t believe there are disasters and they may come anytime. Even if disasters do come, they won’t come near these people. Their life experience do not carry any hints of bad thing coming. They just don’t know that the delay of the coming of disasters is because the Lord is patient with men, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

c)   People don’t like to hear serious warnings: Today, like the days in the O.T., people like to hear kind words, soothing encouraging words, love, forgiveness, God always gives unlimited chances, blessings and so on. No one likes to hear hard words like sin, repentance or judgment and the like. Many preachers seldom point out the consequences of sin and they grow their churches full of people who have no idea of God’s righteousness and holiness.

It was reported that some of the countries suffered the most destruction of the recent tsunami were warned by geologists but they refused to take the warning seriously. They considered the bad news of a possible tsunami may scare off 1,000s of tourists to their countries in the Christmas and New Year holidays and the loss of millions of dollars.  Instead their people paid a much higher price: their very lives.



       Many people ask why disasters happen. They are asking the reasons, the causes behind the destruction. If we can put all the disasters together and group them in categories, the following may be the top reasons:

a)   Because this is a cursed world: Ever since Adam and Eve sinned against God, the world was a cursed place to live. (Genesis 3:17-19) Diseases, death, natural disasters, volcanoes, hurricanes, droughts, floods, just to name a few, are common things in history. The effect of a man’s sin is more than destructive to him, it is also destructive to everything and everyone around him.

b)   Because we live in a world of sinful men: Sinful men will do things not just hurting themselves but also hurting others. Drunk drivers kill people. Hateful men murder others. Drug dealers harm the health of young people. Cigarette makers cause 1,000s of people sick of lung cancer. Habitual gamblers ruin their families and children and the list goes on and on. As long as there are sinful men on earth, there will be destruction.

c)   Because God may use disasters to call men to Him: As God called the people of Nineveh and Jonah to repentance, the people of Israel into exile and the Prodigal son to come home, God sometimes allows disasters to happen to bring people back to Him. People with deeper spiritual insights should learn important lessons at time of destruction.  



       The value of history is we may learn from what happened before to realign what we should do in the future. From the facts of disasters and their sudden nature, we may learn, at least, the following:

a)   Peace and safety are fragile: No one could assume that he can handle everything and is secured because of his efforts. False sense of security should not be the basis of life. The real security is in God who is never moved. All that we have are from Him. He can give, and He can take them back. Men should depend on God instead of on his own ability.

b)  We need to rearrange our priority: As Jesus said life is more important than food and body (health) is more than clothing, we need to value life, this life and eternal life, over and above material things most people work so hard to accumulate. Character, generosity and love are more important than wealth. We need to spend more time in things that last.

c)   Be watchful and prepared: Prepare for eternal life when disasters do strike. Do not slumber or procrastinate. No one is certain when disaster may strike. But when it does, we need to be sure where we are going.



       In the painting “The Allegory of Prudence” by the world famous artist Titian, there is a man with three faces: a face of a young man facing the future; a face of a mature middle-age man facing today and a face of a wise old man facing the past. He wrote the following at the bottom as this: “From the example of the past, the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil his future.”

       No one has to go through the pain and suffering of disasters personally to learn the lessons. The wise will learn precious lessons from the experiences of others so he will not imperil his own future.