Natural Disasters – God’s Fault?
A friend recently sent me an email posing an assortment of questions about miracles. The questions originally came from an agnostic/atheist type (Agath) – my friend is neither – and were intended to discredit God and belittle believers.
A summary of each question is included for your reference. I summarized them because unedited they were quite long but I was careful to retain the essence:
- If God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, as the Bible claims, why does He allow people to die in floods and tsunamis or children to die of cancer?
- Why are miracles reported less frequently and in fewer numbers in modern times?
- If God is so powerful why does the Devil exist?
- Why are the Ten Commandments so shallow/narrow? Why do the commandments say nothing about children’s rights, mathematics or the internet?
- Why doesn’t God heal amputees (restore lost limbs)? Why does God only heal things that have a statistical possibility of healing on their own, e.g., cancers?
- Doesn’t the conflict between Christian, Muslim and Jewish beliefs cancel each other out? If one is right wouldn’t the others be considered atheists?
I can’t say whether Agath is genuinely open to real answers or not but he apparently won’t accept fluff. According to my friend “God works in mysterious ways” won’t do, hence this post.
Disasters, Diseases And Miracles – Accusations vs Issues
I’ll discuss only the first two questions in this article. The others will come later but since the first two are closely related and Agath offered an answer for each they seemed like a good place to start.
Answer to question one:
Since God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent He must be a psychopath to allow people to die in floods and tsunamis or children to die of cancer.
Answer to question two:
The simple explanation for fewer and less frequent miracles is that we now know that things like volcanoes/tsunami/thunderstorms etc. are not the work of the ‘devil’ or some similar simplistic explanation…but are easily be explained by physics or climatology or tectonic plate movement etc…
These answers allow for only two possible conclusions both of which are accusations.
- Accusation one: God doesn’t exist – in which case believers are accused of being mindless.
- Accusation two: If He does exist He’s a psychopath.
What is not readily seen is the fact that two closely related but very different issues are being confused to make the point.
- Issue one: God maintains natural law using the omni- capabilities referred to above.
- Issue two: God interfering with those laws, which is a question of sovereignty.
Yes, there was a time when, through ignorance, society attributed all natural disasters directly to the personal intervention of God and/or the Devil but that was generally true of everyone not just Christians or religious people. Every time the thunder clapped everyone thought God was angry.
But, it is also true that Christians today recognize these natural occurrences for what they are, natural. Some still attribute natural phenomenon to miraculous intervention but that opinion isn’t representative. I don’t doubt, however, that Agath’s questions were in response to these uninformed assertions.
Who Creates and Maintains Natural Law
The point though is this. Identifying a law as natural, such as the law of gravity, and assigning scientific dimensions to it does nothing to disprove God.
Where did gravity come from? How did it get here and what keeps it operating consistently?
Gravity has no intelligence of its own. In fact, it has no personal qualities at all. It doesn’t create or maintain itself. Therefore, the existence of natural laws that can be studied, observed, consistently proven and that support life points to a higher, intelligent, benevolent, personal being.
The reality, however, is this. Even though God created our natural environment He doesn’t manage it for us.
There is a big difference between creating and managing the environment and Jesus is the one who made that clear.
According to Jesus, God allows the sun to shine and the rain to fall on everyone, the evil and the righteous and doing so is an expression of His love to all. That is tantamount to saying…
- God created our natural environment and maintains the laws by which it operates consistently and equally for the benefit of all.
But, Jesus also said a wise man would build his house on rock instead of sand knowing that a solid foundation would keep the house safe in the event of a flood. He was making a spiritual point but using natural law to illustrate it, laws we are familiar with. The implication is…
- Humans are responsible to prepare for natural events that can be destructive.
And if you complain that God should have created an environment less prone to destructive events I would respond by saying He did.
Originally the world was created perfect. We can’t imagine what that would be like but initially there was no death and everything was in balance. The world was ecologically perfect.
And at the same time God stipulated that humans were responsible, even in a perfect world, to manage the environment and it wasn’t hard work to do so. Hard labor and a difficult-to-manage environment was the effect of breaking the rules. Human action, not God’s, brought on the unpredictable and destructive cycles in nature. But, we still have the responsibility to manage it.
So, as far as we are concerned, whether God intervenes – interferes – or not, He is still the powerful hand that created and sustains the laws by which nature operates and humans are still responsible to work with those laws doing what we can to avoid disasters.
And this makes sense.
It logically follows that since God created natural laws and keeps them running smoothly it would be a little silly to expect Him to constantly intervene every time we fall victim to natural processes.
Forget psychopathic. God would be obsessively controlling, dangerously impractical, inconsistent and very unstable if, after creating a well ordered, safely balanced world, He began changing the rules every time someone thought He should.
Accidents And Mistakes Are Great Teachers
The reality is, bruises, scraped knees, broken bones, lacerations, pain and even death are the teaching tools of life. Some of our greatest lessons are learned from tragedies. The Titanic is a good example and we can’t blame God for that. That tragedy was caused by human pride and anyone familiar with the Bible knows “pride goes before a fall.”
So, one reason God doesn’t intervene is because He created humans intelligent and capable enough to avoid many of these problems. Adam and Eve knew exactly what the consequences were for eating the forbidden fruit. They were informed ahead of time. Should we blame God for that also?
Which means, of course, that many tragedies could be avoided if humans, instead of complaining, would listen more closely to the things God says and use the knowledge we’ve gained more responsibly. Why should God do more until we have done all we can?
Agath says we are too intelligent to believe. The question is are we diligent and intentional enough to use our intelligence to avoid tragedies before they happen. It is a little puny to whine about God not preventing tragedies when there is much we can do ourselves.
The 2004 Indonesian Tsunami
The 2004 Indonesian Tsunami is a good example. Why did that event result in so many deaths? Because no one was humanitarian and proactive enough to prepare for the worst!
We know earthquakes happen. We can predict when volcanoes will occur and we can detect tsunamis when they occur. In fact, we knew the 2004 tsunami was happening when it was happening. We didn’t, however, have early warning systems or evacuation procedures in place. Why? Well, the answer has nothing to do with God. Maybe humans are the evil ones!
Thankfully, we are better prepared for such events now. Sadly, it took a tragedy to spur us into action. And there is no doubt we can do more, if we would.
The truth is, we are too self absorbed by our own lives to be bothered about others. And that’s not God’s fault.
How Would Intervention Work?
But, if you want God to intervene in some cases and allow nature to run its course in others where would you like Him to draw the line.
- Should He prevent every tragedy?
In that case, we wouldn’t need life jackets, life guards or the ability to swim. No one would drown.
- Should we set a number on how many injuries or deaths are acceptable?
- If so, should we set the limit by event, day or area?
- If we set a number, who gets to decide the cutoff point?
- If the death count was set at 50 would the families and friends of the 50 victims be satisfied that God was fair?
I doubt it! “Why my son? Why didn’t he come home sooner or leave later? If only this or that. Why did God do this to us?”
- In cases where the allowable death rate is exceeded, should God prevent the disaster completely or intervene when the limit is reached?
And either way, do we really think humans would willingly accept all responsibility for those disasters that are less severe?
- If 100 people are facing the same disaster who gets to decide which 50 will survive?
That was the problem with the Titanic. Only so many could survive and we know how willing the victims were to accept the inevitable. Even the survivors weren’t willing to save a many as they could.
- Should we set an age limit on potential victims?
Agath implied this by suggesting God is evil for allowing children to die of cancer. But that begs several questions:
At what age is it OK for a person to die of cancer? At what age does dieing of cancer cease to be a tragedy? And with all of our intelligence why haven’t we done more to avoid the problem?
- Should disasters or diseases be allowed if the persons affected have done or will do evil things?
- If so, should their demise be allowed before or after they have done wrong?
Would it be acceptable if a person like Hitler, for example, had died with cancer as an infant? And would that really help? Is there any guarantee another mad man wouldn’t have taken his place?
Agath’s accusations fall flat. The point hasn’t been proven. If anything, Agath has shown that he is unfamiliar with what the Bible really says and has thought little about the practicalities of such suggestions.
But one question for Agath. Can you or anyone prove that God hasn’t prevented terrible disasters in the past? We would have to be omni-capable and eternal to answer that question convincingly.
In The Reason For God Timothy Keller confronts head on the questions that skeptics are asking, yet without a confrontational style. It is sensible, rational and engaging. A must read for every thinking person, Christian or not. His approach to hard questions about God not only provides answers it encourages us to develop analytical thinking skills. Also available is a DVD with discussion guide for small group interaction.