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God and Natural Disasters

Many of us are familiar with the so-called Problem of Evil.

If God is all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing, why is there evil in the world? This question is so important for any Christian to ask. Thankfully, thoughtful responses to this enigma have produced volumes of material.

In a nutshell, we see evil in this world because of free will, and we have free will because love requires it.

God gave us our own will to love Him freely, but many have willed against the divine plan of God in favor of their own pleasures, leading to greed, murder, theft, sexual assault, and other horrendous activities. (Such an answer would need much more explanation, but that is not the topic of this article.)

What about natural disasters? The Problem of Natural Disasters is often overlooked under the shadow of The Problem of Evil, yet it is no-less important. The rub comes when we realize that free will has no direct causation for a tsunami, earthquake, tornado, or volcano killing thousands of innocent people and leaving many others on the streets. These things are brutal and unforgiving! If God is all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing, why do we have natural disasters?

The Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias will often begin a response to this question with a question of his own:

Who is legitimately asking?

  • The scientific naturalist does not raise the question. For them, natural disasters promote evolutionary progress. Natural selection takes place as some creatures successfully flee from or endure the hardships while other creatures perish.
  • The philosophical naturalist does not ask the question, because in a world of mere particles and chemical reactions, there is no basis for claiming natural disasters to be immoral or somehow wrong in any real kind of way.
  • The Buddist and Hindu do not raise the question. It’s Karma. Cities and regions have collectively done wrong and they are getting what they deserve.
  • The Muslim does not raise the question, because it’s “Inshallah,” as they say. Everything is the will of Allah, plain and simple.

The question remains legitimate only for those who ask it from a Jewish or Christian worldview.

Just like the problem of evil, the question of natural disasters is difficult to use as an argument against the Christian God, because doing so borrows from the worldview which it tries to dismantle.

All this aside, there is nothing wrong about asking this question from a Christian worldview. It can be a very hard topic to understand!

Is there a theological explanation for the existence of natural disasters? Does God create them? If not, why does God allow them?

In the Old Testament, we see God using natural disasters to warn or destroy sinful people. The storm of Jonah was from God (Jonah 1:4). Joel prophesied to Judah about the swarm of locusts being a warning sign from God, and that they should repent. And who could forget the plagues of Egypt before the Exodus? However, there’s no reason to say that all natural disasters which ever happened back then were God’s judgment. I suspect that the vast majority of them were merely… natural. It’s just how the earth works. Let’s not forget of when Jesus rebuked a storm in Luke 8:24! In this instance, God was at odds with nature’s threat against human life. I suspect that remains the case today!

So why does it still happen? Some would say that these events are demonic. It’s not a theological stretch to say that such tragedies are a result of spiritual influences. Human beings are not the only free agents operating in this world. We see other tragedies like sickness and disabilities having the possibility of demonic origin (Mt. 10:1, Lk. 13:11, Acts 8:7).

Others will point to the curse of the world. It’s interesting to notice that when God created the world, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31) Does this mean that the world was perfect? Possibly. But whatever the case, it’s hard for me to imagine that if Adam and Eve never sinned, there would still be occasional natural disasters in the Garden of Eden! I suspect that the reason for natural disasters today is a result of the Fall, or at least a result of God foreseeing the Fall. Perhaps we could even point to Genesis 3:17 when God told Adam “cursed is the ground because of you.” (To be fair, context says that this curse made the ground difficult to gather food from, but Paul seems to understand this curse in much broader terms in Romans 8:18-22.)

Still, let’s recognize that the problem of Natural disasters is heavy on people. Very heavy. Chances are, you’ve felt its weight. Although there is much more which can be said on the subject, a handful of theological insights will never satisfy the pain that our world feels from it, nor can we definitively answer why God has chosen to allow these things to wreak havoc against humanity.

We rightfully say that our comprehension is nothing compared with God’s knowledge and foresight of all the workings of the universe. At the end of the day, we really don’t know. But our inability to understand does not make it improbable that God, in all His wisdom, would have a reason. “I think that it is not at all improbable,” says apologist William Lane Craig, “that only in a world that is suffused with Natural Disasters would the maximal number of people freely come to know God and His love and find their entrance into God’s Kingdom.”

This is the lesson we learn from the book of Job. Here we have a man who suffered severely from a series of inexplicable tragic events. Job was righteous before God and he knew it, but we wanted an answer so desperately that he was even willing to question God’s justice. He becomes pretentious, thinking that he can figure out God. God responds to Job by asking “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4) God continues; He goes through 62 questions, and Job is silent!

There comes a point when we realize that the final answer for such tragedies may not be the answer we set out to find. God is infinitely higher in His ways and understanding than we are. Expect then, that some things which God does will be impossible for our finite minds to comprehend. This need not affect our faith in God. Rather, it means that our faith in God is anchored in other places.

We understand that God is good according to explicit claims to God’s goodness in the Bible, demonstrated by the sending his Son to die on the Cross, having endured the most horrific form of suffering possible so that we wouldn’t have to.