After five years of drought, massive rainstorms hit parts of northern California in February. The precipitation brought much-needed relief to a state in the driest period of its 165-year recorded history. Yet in some areas, what seemed to be a long-withheld blessing became a curse.
The rainwater caused the Lake Oroville reservoir level to rise more than 50 feet in mere days. Engineers opened the dam’s main spillway to prevent water from overflowing the 770-foot dam, the nation’s tallest. The spillway, a 3,000-foot concrete channel leading to the Feather River below, was in disrepair, and the onrushing water carved a 300-foot crater into it, allowing water to spill out uncontrollably and erode earth beneath it.
At this point, operators faced a dire situation: If the main spillway remained open, the earth beneath it would continue to erode back to the reservoir. This could cause the spillway’s barrier to collapse, unleashing a 30-foot tidal wave from the reservoir. They decided to close the main spillway and rely on the emergency spillway, an earthen channel with a holding basin, which had never been used in the dam’s 48-year history.
The emergency spillway began eroding faster than expected. Aware of the potential threat, state authorities quickly evacuated more than 180,000 residents living in the floodplain below the dam. By then, the water released through the spillways had lowered the reservoir’s levels. The rain stopped and workers hurried to repair the damage before more rainstorms arrived.
The dramatic footage of an enormous dam gushing 100,000 cubic feet of water per second and the suspense of an anticipated catastrophic flood affecting Californians in three counties made front-page news. People worldwide learned of everything this imperiled dam represented: political bickering, rural-urban tension, decaying infrastructure built during a decades-old American boom. These were all partially to blame for the situation at Oroville—and for the estimated 100,000 other American dams like it that need repair.
But for as much blame as has been issued, is it inappropriate to ask what role God may have played?
Of course, many say God doesn’t exist, or that He plays no direct role in destructive phenomena like extreme droughts, flooding, wildfires, earthquakes and other environmental disasters that have afflicted America and especially California. They insist these problems are simply the aggregate effects of random events and human choice.
But are California’s problems happenstance? And can they be fixed by improved human choices?
Do you believe in a God who can actually influence events in this world? Couldn’t He have provided gentle rain in due season that would have relieved California’s scorching desertification without jeopardizing this dam? For that matter, couldn’t He have prevented its searing drought from happening in the first place? Does He not care about such matters?
The Bible shows that He does care. In 2003, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry asked, “Is California Under a Curse?” In this article, he wrote, “God does punish us with ‘natural’ disasters.” He referred back to an article he wrote a decade prior, which said, “One disaster after another is striking California. These deadly disasters are repeatedly labeled the ‘worst ever’! … With all the disasters that have struck California the past few years, it’s as if the state is under a curse.” That article is as timely today as ever.
Few people seem to believe this today, but weather disasters are warnings from God designed to get people’s attention. “The God of the Bible is not impotent. He wields the punitive sword of flood and mildew—and also that of drought (Deuteronomy 28:22; 11:17). Sometimes He uses both at the same time in order to heighten their corrective power: ‘And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered’ (Amos 4:7). Notice—this is God talking through His Prophet Amos. God causes these weather disasters! In one region God sends a drought—in another region, floods—and it all happens right before harvest time. And why? God causes it because we haven’t returned to Him (verse 8). Amos is trying to help us see the connection between extreme weather upsets and human sin.” That comes from our booklet Why ‘Natural’ Disasters?
Extreme weather events are going to worsen in parallel with the worsening not of Californian partisanship, emissions or budgets, but of our sins. Prophecy shows that they will intensify until we admit we simply don’t have the intelligence, time, money or cubic yards of concrete to block them all.
When the increasing volume and pressure of environmental disasters finally tops the dam of human effort, many people in the floodplain will finally reevaluate just whether there might be a God after all. Then, the religious and the nonreligious alike will be frantically asking: If there is a God, why is He letting this happen to us?
California went from five years of crisis-level drought to devastating floods in mere days. It’s time we start asking, why “natural” disasters?