The destruction and lasting effects of Typhoon Haiyan add to the chaotic whirlwind of continuing worldwide disasters.
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Looking up in the Philippines often means finding an expansive sky that seems to go on forever: picture-perfect clouds set against a stunning, deep-blue backdrop.
Yet lowering one’s gaze since the November 8 Super Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Yolanda, has revealed something utterly different: entire towns reduced to rubble, coconut tree forests flattened—a cacophony of destruction.
Meteorologists clocked the storm’s winds near 200 mph with gusts up to 235 mph, some of the strongest ever recorded. These numbers did somewhat diminish before the storm struck the central region of the Philippines, yet the power of the typhoon shocked residents used to living in the path of cyclones.
The mayor of Tacloban, a city of 200,000 directly in the storm’s path, told the Guardian what it was like: “I couldn’t see it coming because the wind was so strong. We just took cover. Glass shattered. People grabbed me and took me into a building but within 10 minutes the doors had blasted open and water was everywhere.” Regarding the sound of the wind, he stated, “Imagine you’re standing behind a jet engine that’s about to take off and all you hear is that roaring sound.”
When the storm passed, the chaos of the wind and water gave way to disorder and disarray of other sorts. Corpses hung from trees and littered the ground, more than four million were homeless, and devastated infrastructure slowed aid delivery to a painful crawl.
For those who survived, the turmoil hit on a visceral level. One gut-wrenching television interview featured a middle-aged man who, with an expression somewhere between grief and numb resignation, confirmed through a Tagalog translator that he had lost his mother, his wife, and all four of his children.
From the beginning, there was confusion about the death toll. Initial reports placed it at three victims, then four. A day or so later, a figure of 1,500 emerged. The nation’s government had one number, the United Nations another. Slowly, the body count climbed into multiple thousands. Due to the many small islands in the Philippines, however, the real number may never be known.
Hungry survivors began looting. Where aid did reach, a rice-line stampede killed eight people. Finally, the hardest hit areas began to receive food and supplies.
While the nation is now rebuilding, the chaos and lasting effects are far from over. The storm is estimated to have caused $15 billion in damages, yet the long-term economic costs are likely to be much higher. Citing Commodity Weather Group LLC, BBC reported that Haiyan destroyed half of the region’s sugar cane-growing area and a third of its rice-producing land.
Undoubtedly, Haiyan survivors will continue to feel its effects—especially the loss of loved ones—for years to come.
Filipinos are no strangers to weather upsets. A German newspaper article from Deutsche Welle labeled their nation a “country prone to natural disasters.”
The paper stated: “The Philippines has suffered from an inexhaustible number of deadly typhoons, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and other natural disasters. This is due to its location along the Ring of Fire, or typhoon belt—a large Pacific Ocean region where many of Earth’s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.
“Annually, approximately 80 typhoons develop above tropical waters, of which 19 enter the Philippine region and six to nine make landfall, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC).
“The Philippines is in fact the country most exposed to tropical storms in the world. Violent tropical storms, such as the latest Haiyan typhoon, can generate 10 times as much energy as the Hiroshima atomic bomb.”
Haiyan is the latest in the nation’s “inexhaustible number” of problems. When the typhoon made landfall, the Philippines was still recovering from a mid-October 7.2-magnitude earthquake in central Bohol province. After the temblor, 222 people were dead, 976 injured, and more than 330,000 displaced.
In response, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) drew up an action plan that sought “US$46.8 million to reach 344,300 people over a six-month period until April 2014.”
The UN agency reported: “Successive and simultaneous emergencies…have stretched the resources of humanitarian responders. Additional funding is urgently needed for timely aid to reach the right people.”
All this before Haiyan had even formed in the Pacific.
Yet other manmade problems have beset the nation—hunger, homelessness and violent clashes.
An example is the lingering conflict between the Philippine government and rebel groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The Thomas Reuters Foundation summarized the long, multilayered history of the situation: “The Mindanao conflict first flared in the 1960s when the Muslim minority—known as the Moros—launched an armed struggle for their ancestral homeland in the south.
“Mindanao also experiences violence linked to militant Islamist groups with pan-Asian aspirations, bloody ethnic vendettas, clan wars and banditry.
“Politics and religion aside, much of the violence is fuelled by deep poverty…”
In addition, the report added that a communist insurgency has been active for more than 40 years.
The foundation stated, “The presence of the army and so many armed factions often fans the fires of traditional family feuds, leading to clan-based violence on Mindanao. Both the army and rebel groups have been drawn on several occasions into clan confrontations, which have displaced thousands.”
Despite a 2012 peace deal between the government and the Moros, armed conflict continues. An example occurred in mid-September. According to The Economist, multiday “skirmishes began when the army and police opened fire to stop scores of rebels who were massing to enter the city. The security forces accused the rebels of using civilian hostages as human shields.”
In the end, insurgents “killed at least 12 people, some of them civilians; displaced thousands; and paralysed normal life for the city of [one million people].”
The aftermath of Haiyan has also seen rebel attacks, including from communists who ambushed an aid convoy destined for Typhoon survivors.
With widespread poverty, ethnic rivalries, clan violence, and insurgent groups, Haiyan has only added fuel to the country’s persistent problems.
When tallying the numbers—thousands dead, millions homeless, entire villages wiped off the map—the human toll can be overwhelming. Events such as Typhoon Haiyan make people stop and think, most often leading to a single question: Why?
Was it “Mother Nature” striking back at humanity? Was it simple time and chance? Where was God during this event?
Tragedies inevitably bring out the last question.
In the days following Haiyan’s landfall, CNN’s “Belief Blog” asked what God’s role is in natural disasters. The post detailed the typical queries: “How should we make sense of such senseless death and destruction? Was God in the whirlwind itself, as the Bible hints, or present only in the aftermath, as people mobilize to provide food, water and shelter?”
Throughout the article, various religionists concluded that man asks these things “perhaps because the answers remain so elusive,” calling them “thorny theological issues” and stating that there is simply “no good answer.”
Yet there is an answer.
The purpose behind suffering is one of the most important topics for mankind. Real Truth Editor-in-Chief David C. Pack explored it in his Personal Why Must There Be Human Suffering? The article explains the underlying reason for suffering—backed by iron-clad proof from the Bible.
While learning about such a tragedy from afar makes it easy to wax philosophical and then shift to the next news story, stop and think. Consider the plight of the Haiyan survivors and put yourself in their shoes. They are dealing with the aftereffects now—with little time to ponder the reason behind their suffering—and will most likely have to do so for some time to come.
Rachel Obordo summarized the resiliency and optimism of those in her home country in a Guardian article: “The Philippines is used to natural disasters and extreme hardship. After this latest tragedy we’ll come back fighting.”
Ms. Obordo described some of the nation’s hardships: “With 98 million people vying for space and resources, surviving is part of the daily struggle. However, with thousands dead and millions displaced from their homes, Typhoon Haiyan has left us more vulnerable than ever.”
She continued, stating that Typhoon Haiyan “is not enough to keep us down…those who have survived this terrible disaster they will stand up and come back fighting—although it may be difficult—with the resilience that has always shaped us.”
This resilience is quite remarkable and admirable. Despite chronic hardships, Filipino families endure, often with smiles on their faces. Other nations could learn a lot from their examples.
Simply pressing on, however, is becoming increasingly difficult—not just in the Philippines, but the world over. Natural disasters, famines, war and disease outbreaks are coming faster than ever, with no time to fully recover before the next chaotic wave hits.
Deutsche Welle wrote: “Since 2006 it has been rare for worldwide disasters to number under 900 in any given year. This is in stark contrast to the 1980s, when a terrible year might have seen a mere 500 disasters.”
How long can the world cope with a never-ending stream of overlapping mega-disasters?
Extreme weather is increasing across the globe. For example, Europe has been hit by a spate of powerful storms, with scientists predicting such weather upsets will be the new norm. Military conflict, such as the Syrian civil war, lingers with no end in sight. Rumblings of impending military strikes come from the Mideast, Asia and elsewhere. Old diseases such as bubonic plague and tuberculosis are back—and this time are antibiotic resistant.
The tumult of terrible events is both perplexing and distressing. How long can mankind cope?
As with the reason for human suffering, many look to religion for answers. Some turn to Bible prophecy, wanting to know if there is an end in sight.
The Bible does foretell trends seen in the Philippines and the world over. This includes hurricanes/typhoons, earthquakes, volcanoes, disease, starvation, ethnic violence, and terrorism.
Such trends are listed in Jesus Christ’s Olivet prophecy, which answers the question on the minds of millions: “What shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world [or age]?” (Matt. 24:3).
Matthew states: “And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars…For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences [disease outbreaks], and earthquakes, in diverse places” (vs. 6-7).
The New Testament was originally written in Greek. The word translated “nation” in these verses is ethnos. In other words, it could be worded, “For ethnic group shall rise against ethnic group.”
Mark’s account echoes Matthew, but adds a few key points: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in diverse places, and there shall be famines and troubles…” (Mark 13:8).
The term “troubles” is defined by Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible as “disturbance, that is, (of water) roiling, or (of a mob) sedition.”
Think of mobs looting after a disaster, but also of roiling water—such as typhoons and other extreme weather!
Luke 21 adds, “But when you shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified…” (vs. 9). Strong’s states that “commotions” can also mean “instability” and “disorder.” This implies both instable governments and terrorist attacks.
Verse 11 of the Luke account states that there will be “great earthquakes.” The Greek word for “great” is megas—as in mega -earthquakes.
Put all of this together: rumors of war, ethnic violence, terrorism, widespread famine, disease pandemics, mega-quakes, super-typhoons. All of these conditions have existed throughout millennia, but all have been dramatically increasing in magnitude and frequency over the last few decades.
The Philippines is a microcosm of the worsening trends now enveloping the globe.
After Jesus listed these signs “of the end of the world,” which the Bible also calls the “last days” (II Tim. 3:1), He exhorted His followers to “watch” (Mark 13:33). The context shows this means to watch world events through the lens of biblical prophecy.
Yet there is a problem. Most so-called Bible experts severely butcher, botch and blur what God’s Word says on these important prophetic topics. Ask 10 theologians to explain something like the “beast” mentioned in Revelation 17 and you will get 10 very different answers.
Such inconsistency can understandably leave the average person disheartened and confused. The situation can leave others skeptical of Bible prophecy all together. They might ask: “Why would God record prophecy—supposed future events—in His Word and then not allow those following Him to understand what is coming?”
But this prophetic and religious confusion should not come as a surprise. In fact, the Olivet prophecy began with this worldwide trend.
Notice: “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name…and shall deceive many.” (Matt. 24:4-5). Similar words are repeated in Mark and Luke.
Many do claim to come in Christ’s name yet offer mangled interpretations of prophecy. Why such utter confusion?
There are six main reasons for the chaotic whirlwind of botched prophetic understanding:
(1) They do not understand the identity of religions. To comprehend prophecy, one must know which belief systems are valid, which are true or false.
The book Where Is the True Church? – and Its Incredible History! answers this question.
(2) They do not understand the identity of nations. Some modern nations are relatively easy to find in the Bible. For example, most Asian nations are descendants of Noah’s son Japheth. Yet others are more obscure and require deeper research into the Bible and history. What about the greatest nations? Where do they fit in prophecy?
The eye-opening book America and Britain in Prophecy answers these questions and more.
(3) They do not understand the order of events. In order to understand the complete prophetic timeline, one must allow the Bible to interpret itself. It is a puzzle, with pieces found throughout its text.
Careful reading of prophetic clues that are “here a little, and there a little”—while allowing the Bible to interpret itself—clears up many misunderstandings.
(4) They do not understand the magnitude of events. Knowing the size and scope of foretold occurrences is crucial.
(5) They do not understand the speed of events. Some happen right after another and others are spread out.
(6) They do not understand the general timing of the last days. Most are not even sure whether mankind has already entered the “last days”! You can know this by reading the booklet Are These the Last Days?
Armed with the correct understanding of all six of these points, a proper prophetic landscape will emerge—as will your place in it all! Terrible events such as Typhoon Haiyan and the other problems in the Philippines will take on much deeper meaning.
Instead of a worrisome, chaotic spiral of global events, a grand purpose for mankind will become clear.