Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Christian response to the natural disasters

A question that has troubled people for countless ages is the problem of evil. If God is all-powerful and good, how is it possible that evil can exist in our world? How is it possible that God can allow terrible things to happen, such as the recent earthquakes in Christchurch and Japan that have claimed so many lives?

I won’t pretend to be able to delve into the depths of God’s mind and understand why all these things happen. But part of what practising our faith is about, is to grapple with these issues and at least come to some kind of an understanding.

Here is my own brief explanation that I gave to a dear Christian brother who asked me the question. Of course, it is brief and probably doesn’t do justice to the full breadth of the subject. Also, like I said, it is delving into things that we don’t I am more than happy to stand corrected if I am wrong. May God deal mercifully with me as I seek to understand these things myself...  

When God created everything, it was perfect and He put it under the dominion of mankind, which was also created perfect (see Gen 1:27-28). When God created Adam and Eve He also gave them a free will, which means that they were free to choose whether to obey or disobey God. As long as Adam and Eve obeyed God they would have life because God is Life. But because they disobeyed they were cut off from this Life and so death entered the world because of their sin (Rom 5:12) just as God said it would (Gen 2:16-17). God’s warning wasn’t so much to say that He wanted to punish them if they disobeyed; rather, it was a warning because He loved them and didn’t want them to be cut off from His Life.

But Adam and Eve chose to sin...and so they caused death and devastation to enter the world because they chose to be cut off from the Life of God. And because God placed the whole of creation under them, it too is now subject to death, decay, and destruction (Rom 8:22).

So, when people die, or there are natural disasters, it is not necessarily because God is punishing someone. It is because by mankind’s free choice to sin, everything in creation is subject to destruction. And this is evidenced around us in major catastrophic events like earthquakes and tsunamis; and also in the “smaller” realities of death and sickness.

But, thanks be to God, that’s not where the story ends...because God is in control and God is Love. He loved us so much that He would not leave us in death and sin. So He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross so that we could be restored to Him and have communion in His Life again. That is why the Bible shows Jesus to be the New Adam and Mary to be the New Eve. God is making a New Creation...and if we are Christians we are new creations in Jesus (2 Cor 5:17). Slowly but surely, through the Lord Jesus Christ, God will restore everything that He created so that it is completely in Him and full of His Life again (1 Cor 15:28).

And so we see that God is indeed working all things together for good for those who love Him and show that love through their obedience to Him (Rom 8:28).

What is truly wonderful about this being restored to God is that every time we have the privilege of attending Mass, we are able to partake in the Life of God when we receive our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament (Jn 6:51). Although we only receive the smallest of morsels, we can rest assured that if we are receiving our Lord worthily that He is slowly but surely transforming us and changing us by His Life in us.


  1. Does this imply that there would be no earthquakes or tsunamis if Adam and Eve - and the rest of us - had not sinned?

    It seems that natural disasters are built into the system. God wanted this kind of world and these are part of the package.

    I agree with your answer. But also these things need to be seen in the context of eternity. My idea of the final judgement is that it will be, and be seen to be a vindication of God's plan. We will see the whole fabric of creation and how it all turns out in the end.

    E.g. one - very tiny - part of the answer will surely be people who by involved in a flood/tsunami/earthquage&c will avoid an even greater evil. [I've just been watching 'The Adjustment Bureau']

    Terry Montgomery

  2. Hi Fr. Terry

    Thank you so much for responding. I really don't know the answer...this is just my take on it and I might be wrong :)

    I tend to think that what God originally created was perfect in every way...which means that natural disasters (which lead to injury, death, destruction, etc.) were not part of the original fabric.

    That is what I think St. Paul means when he talks about the whole earth groaning in labour pains as a result of original sin...and that even creation itself awaits its own redemption which will take place finally when mankind's redemption is brought to completion (Rom 8:18-23).

    But, like I said...this is just my own take on it. I could be wrong...after all, it is such an immense topic. After all, we are dealing here with the hidden thoughts of God.

  3. Hi Justin,
    I too am not happy with attributing disasters to original sin, I see that as implying that God chooses to inflict these events on us.

    What of the newly baptised baby, freed from original sin and yet to sin? There is an obvious problem in attributing their suffering to original sin.

    I prefer to think of the world as a natural system where there will be natural disasters and disease because of the physics that governs our lives. If God were to intervene in the physics to prevent disasters then we could not rely on gravity of Newton’s 3 laws to keep the world ticking along. In the catch phrase of the 60’s “shit happens”.

    We could ask why God created a world with those laws of physics - perhaps fire could have been created to only be hot when serving a useful purpose.

    The scriptures don’t teach us that with God’s love we will live happy and disaster free lives – quite the contrary.
    It does teach us that God will be with us all the way through.

    The free will argument has limited application to natural disasters and Plantinga to whom the argument is often attributed says as much. Certainly free will may be applied to our choice to live on alluvial flood plain but it is easier to apply it acts by individuals.
    It does have a problem even there in that again we find innocent victims.

    My preference is that the world is the way it is. God does not interfere with the laws of nature at a whim – fire burns; it always burns, be it to cook or to inflict pain, it has to always burn or we can't rely on it.

    Certainly God has given us the wisdom and the free will to avoid some hazards. In answer to prayer He may well guide us to avoid some of them or to spur the rescuers on to greater effort, or inspire more of us to give of our resources to help the victims.

    What God and faith in God gives us; in my view, is solace. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I fear no evil, for You are with me;
    Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

    God bless

  4. Hi Charles

    I personally don't have a problem attributing the disharmony that now exists in creation to original sin...after all, that is what our Catechism does (see no. 400).

    Also I think that you might have misunderstood me if you think that I was saying God chooses to inflict disasters upon us (and at a whim at that). If you look again, in my original post I said that the consequences we suffer are due to the abuse of free will by our first parents. Is that what God wanted? Of course not. God didn't want Adam and Eve to sin. But because of their sin they CHOSE to separate themselves from God. The results were inevitable.

    It's like someone who is in protective custody who steps outside of the parameters of that custody and coming to harm because of it. He can't blame the authorities for the harm he experiences because he chose to act contrary.