How do we make proper sense of plagues and disasters when they come? Are they always temporal punishments?
Afflictions are not always temporal punishments. Sometimes they can be temporal punishments or natural consequences for specific sin but more importantly afflictions are consequence for general sin, which is used to call us closer to God. It is important that we understand what repentance is as if we see it as anything other than Gods work on us then we will turn repentance into a work we do to lessen punishments, merit grace, and to merit Gods favor and Fatherly love. Repentance is from God as an act of Divine love not an act of wrath.
Not all troubles are punishments for sin. During troubles God is calling us to repentance. Not to earn or merit our salvation by our merits and attrition, but to trust in Him as repentance always has faith. When you suffer affliction, God is opening your ear to His Word. He draws you to Himself and away from yourself and your sin.
“He delivers the afflicted by their affliction,and opens their ear in oppression… “Remember that you magnify his work, about which men have sung.”” -Job 36: 15; 24Job 36: 15; 24
In the same way, He uses outer means of grace to strike your ears, eye, touch, and taste. The Word touches your ear when spoken, your eye when read. The waters of baptism strike the eye as well as a cool rush splashing over your head as the Word encounters the ear while it is spoken as the Holy Name of God seals you in Him as the Bridegroom gives you His name, the Eucharist touches the sights and the taste as the body and blood of God, given for your salvation and forgiveness of sins, touches your lips and mouth as an intimate act of love as the bridegroom kisses His bride in anticipation of the Wedding feast to come. Holy Absolution is spoken over you as your Bridegroom tells you of His love for you. All of this is so that God comes to you through all of the senses so that He touches your heart and moves you to love Him.
The response we have is to sing in praise. We have been touched by God, felt and seen His love, and in repentant faith we respond with words of praise. As when affliction comes we remember it is for our good. As our blessed Christ was afflicted for our good. That through Him we have propitiation for our sins and an advocate with the Father.
If repentance weren’t given, He would let us continue in our sin, and we would be lost forever. He calls us to repentance through these means of grace. In order that we would be turned away from the path to destruction through the narrow path and into the Door; namely, Christ Himself.
Repentance, which is contrition over sin, faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sin, and fruit that follows in keeping with repentance, is an act of grace. It is God calling you, turning you toward Him and away from your sin. He draws your eyes towards Him and says “See your Bridegroom, See my Love, See my hands, see my side, hear my words, I love you”. May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, and may the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Spirit be with you. With your sins forgiven, go in peace.