Personal evil rather than natural evil can be easier to explain and understand because of human freedom involved. Please see Post January 2010 Why Doesn’t God Stop Evils Such As The Holocaust. C.S. Lewis has suggested that wars, crimes, and injustices – evils that come through bad choices make by cruel and lawless people – account for at least 80% of humankind suffering. Much of suffering is either self-inflicted or inflicted by others. But, how do we explain natural disasters that cannot be traced to a human’s freedom to inflict evil upon others such as Hitler?
There was the Tsunami in 2004 that landed in India and killed hundreds of thousands of people. There was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There was the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that kills over a hundred thousand people. Clearly in Old Testament times God sometimes caused natural disasters as a judgment against sin, beginning with the Universal Flood. (Genesis 7) But, for one to claim that any disaster in our lifetime is God’s divine punishment is an accusation against the Almighty that cannot be verified. It has been said Haiti in 2010 is being punished for certain pagan practices such as voodoo. If this is the case why has America not been destroyed for killing over 50 million babies through abortion even though the mother’s life/health was not in danger? We can detect a beating heart around the 18th day in a mother’s womb and know babies can react to stimuli, which would include pain well before many mothers abort their babies. If pagan practices caused specific catastrophes, none of us would be alive. I do not agree with theologians who wish to protect a definition of God’s sovereignty or control that implies God foreordains or controls evil for some greater purpose. Just because God doesn’t control everything doesn’t mean God loses control. Evil, whether personal or natural, is not some grand scheme by God! Everything that happens is not God’s will. God does not cause evil; God does not orchestrate evil to accomplish good. And, God has not abandoned us and works to bring some good out of evil.
I have read that the earth is constructed of tectonic plates and when they collide, what is atop them can be destroyed. Do we really want to claim the shifting of these plates underground is related to the changing mood of God? These events directed by the forces of nature happen regardless of the moral actions of the people who are living in areas that are struck. It would seem God created a perfect world to the last detail in the beginning. I believe God intended for humans to have perfect bodies, perfect health, and freedom from natural disasters. One explanation for natural disasters is that rebellion against God set in motions the deterioration of physical nature as it did human nature. Genesis 2:5-6 hints of God’s protection of the earth: “…God had not sent rain on the earth, and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth, and watered the whole surface of the ground.” From the very beginning we have rejected God’s oversight. Thus, God has permitted both human and physical nature to run its course, because of human preference. Freedom gone awry caused progressive deterioration of the physical world as it did human nature.
Certainly humans must bare some responsibility. It has been said in Haiti that when tectonic plates under the earth collided, atop them was a particularly densely populated, poorly constructed city in a country which had been poorly governed for centuries. The suffering of the Haitians was further complicated by overcrowding and poor building practices. And we curse God for letting it happen. Who made money in the construction of the city in the manner that is was? Why couldn’t there have been a better warning system in place? Was this money used for other greedy purposes? Was good housing not possible partly because of social injustices? In other situations instead of caring for the land, we exploit and destroy nature by pollution of air and water and other acts of destruction to the soil and vegetation. We must not underestimate progressive damage over the centuries. When humans rebelled, all hell broke loose, both environmentally and personally.
In much the same way that God allows evil people to commit evil acts, God allows the earth to reflect the consequences sin has had on creation. Regardless, we may ask why God’s doesn’t intervene to prevent such devastating damage and loss of lives cause by natural disasters? The truth is because God or humans don’t measure evil in terms of how many humans are impacted, God would need to interfere with all natural disasters. Tragedy is tragedy, regardless of its magnitude. There would be no freedom as we know it. We can believe God cannot create life in its very essence, impossible to exist without death, violence, suffering and struggle and yet there be free will. It has been suggested God could simply build anti-human elements into nature to protect the innocent from natural evil. God could manufacture events so only people who deserved to be affected were. If this is true, God could have done the same for moral evil. If would appear suffering is necessary to preserve freedom. God is not some sadist! Sometimes, people experience more than their share of evil, sometimes less. The fact that God gave up control for the sake of freedom does not mean that He does not grieve, that He does not respond to evil, or that He does not suffer as well. Perhaps one reason God doesn’t interfere with the natural processes of freedom is because He knows something about human nature we do not accept.
Jesus story in Luke 13:1-5 suggests suffering is not caused by God or one’s sins but suffering around us does give pause for all to reflect the shortness of life and the importance of living purposefully. If God intervened or prevented all natural disasters, would millions of people ever reevaluate their priorities in life? God can and does bring good out of terrible tragedies. Sudden rescue or divine intervention doesn’t always make us the kind of people we need to become. Miracles only turned heads but not hearts. Sudden richness leaves us wanted more of the same, often at the expense of others. The truth is the world and I am changed for the better during suffering than prosperity. Change sometimes is only possible when we don’t interfere with the natural consequences of freedom gone awry. God can, and does, bring great good out of terrible tragedies if we don’t allow a misunderstanding of God’s role in the world to prevent that.