When disaster strikes on a major scale, people tend to look for explanations. It’s nothing new—it has happened for quite some time.

Remember Katrina? Some folks said that was because of the immorality common in New Orleans. Remember Haiti? One famous preacher on TV said that it was because the Haitians had made a pact with the devil. Now I’ve read that some have attributed the Japanese earthquake to cosmic “karma” because of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. One well-known group of protesters believes that the death of every American soldier is God’s righteous retribution for abortion and homosexuality.

It’s true that in days of the prophets of the Old Testament, calamity was directly resultant from man’s sin. Passages like Amos 3:6 make that point clear: “Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has done it?” Some point to this passage as justification for their claims today.

I’d suggest that we need to be a bit more cautious, and read the next two verses: “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken, who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:7-8).

When God caused a disaster as the punishment for sin in the Old Testament, there was always a specific warning and a chance for repentance and God would relent. Remember Jonah’s succinct message? “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4) This formula is common throughout the major and minor prophets.

Today, we have no such specific warning from God about specific consequences. The specific warnings about specific disasters were designed to lead specific people to a specific result—repentance and righteousness. Today we have only God’s general message for all people: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this, he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

I think we should steer away from making presumptuous claims about natural disasters. Sometimes unexplainable calamities are just that—unexplainable. What we should be doing is occupying ourselves with preaching God’s message of repentance and salvation wherever we can, and helping those whose lives are turned upside down by these events.