Two weeks ago, a vicious storm ripped through western Kentucky, taking the lives of over 70 residents of the Commonwealth. Tragically, seven members of one Bowling Green family were killed in the blink of an eye. Scores of others were injured, and hundreds of homes were destroyed in Kentucky’s worst tornadoes in history. The heartbreaking disaster seemed even worse since it occurred so close to Christmas.

     What does the Bible say about severe storms? Are they a sign of the end times? Are they sent by God to warn us or from Satan to torture us? Are storms evidence of man-made climate change, as some insist? While the Bible doesn’t answer those questions in detail, we can draw some basic conclusions about how we should respond by studying several terrible storms in scripture.

     Jonah experienced a horrible windstorm at sea. Instead of going to Nineveh to preach as God commanded, Jonah boarded a ship headed in the opposite direction. “Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up” (Jonah 1:4). The runaway prophet confessed to the terrified crew that he was the target of God’s wrath, and they could only be spared by throwing him overboard. When the sailors reluctantly complied with his request, the storm stopped. In His great mercy, God spared not just the sailors but also Jonah and the Ninevites.

     Years later, the Apostle Paul also experienced a horrendous storm at sea. While sailing to Rome as a prisoner, “… a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster swept down from the island” (Acts 27:14).Unlike Jonah, Paul wasn’t rebelling against God. He was being taken to Rome precisely as God intended. However, the Alexandrian ship he was sailing on became trapped in a raging storm that lasted for two weeks, causing most on board to lose hope of ever being saved.

     During the storm, Paul did not conclude that he was the target of God’s wrath nor suggest the sailors throw him overboard. Instead, he confidently stood up and announced, “’Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss’” (Acts 27:21-22). (Sometimes, people experience storms because of the poor judgment of others.) Paul continued, “’But now I urge you to keep up your courage because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed’” (Acts 27:21-22).

     While Jonah’s storm was a judgment from God, Paul’s storm was apparently from a natural disaster. During that time of year, fierce storms are common in the Mediterranean. Sometimes violent weather results from a “perfect storm,” and Christians are not exempt since God “sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45 NKJV)

     Sometimes storms are the result of a Satanic attack. For example, Job’s ten children were feasting in the home of his oldest son, “when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house” (Job 1:19). The house collapsed, and all of Job’s children were killed instantly. The context of that story implies that it was the Devil — the one who comes to kill, steal, and destroy — who initiated the storm.

     But how do we know? How can we tell if God is disciplining us, Satan is attacking us, or we are getting hammered simply because we live in an imperfect world? Unlike Paul, most of us don’t receive a directive from an angel, so usually, we can’t know for sure. I suspect most of the time, we get hit by storms because we live in a fallen world where “the whole creation has been groaning” (Romans 8:22),and storms cannot be avoided.

     Even though we can’t immediately interpret the reason for most storms, we can seek to respond with Godly wisdom and character. Regardless of the source, we should first examine ourselves. Have we, like Jonah, been running from God? Is there a spirit of rebellion in our hearts for which we need to repent? (See Hebrews 12:6.)

     Though we can’t always identify the reason for a storm, we can trust that God will use it to increase our faith. Jesus’ disciples feared they would drown in a threatening squall on the Sea of Galilee. They asked Jesus, “Don’t you care?” But when Jesus calmed the fierce turbulence with a simple command, “Peace be still!” (Mark 4:39 ESV), they learned to trust Him completely. Although we don’t understand the reason for the storm and we deeply grieve our losses, and we wonder where God is, like Job, we can stubbornly affirm, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15).

     We can also look for opportunities to use storms to enhance our witness. Amid the turbulence, Paul kept his poise and exercised his leadership gifts. He gave testimony to his faith in God. When the storm finally ended, and all were safe, Paul’s testimony was greatly respected by all 276 people on board the vessel.

     The day after our state’s devastating tornadoes, it was encouraging to witness hundreds of volunteers converging on western Kentucky to offer immediate assistance. And it was uplifting to learn about the millions of dollars that sympathizers from across the country have donated. Yet I’m most inspired by the courageous response of Christ-followers at ground zero. Scores of believers have publicly praised God for sparing their lives. Church leaders have affirmed to the media that “Our church building has been destroyed, but our church is alive and well!”

     One brief video that has gone viral shows a man in the middle of his roofless house that has been totally trashed by the tornado. The homeowner sits at a piano that somehow is still intact and plays, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there just something about that name.”  The last phrase of that song reminds us, “Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something about that name.”*  That heart-warming video speaks volumes about that man’s faith and priorities.

     No one wants to endure an agonizing two-week “Northeaster” or a horrifying two-minute tornado. But when ferocious storms charge into your life, chances are it’s a golden opportunity for you to draw near to God and give testimony to others that “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17).


Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.