Church leaders and natural disasters
Published: 28 January 2010 (GMT+10)
A Sumatran village, devastated by the tsunami that followed the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake
When news of the earthquake in Haiti reached the rest of the world, age-old questions were raised again. If God is both loving and omnipotent, why does he allow this kind of thing to happen? Why do the innocent suffer? Why are some spared, and others not? Respected thinkers and leaders were asked what they think, and they gave their opinions. Humanists declared confidently that God obviously does not exist—certainly not a God who is omnipotent and loving. But the eminent churchmen who were questioned appeared to be unable to give a clear answer.
Now it is true that there is a tension in this issue for Christians. But most church leaders in the West make it unnecessarily difficult for themselves by compromising with the secular view of origins. When suffering is clearly caused by man’s greed or cruelty, or his misuse of the environment etc., they are able to give a reasonable answer. But natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and meteorite strikes, which are not caused by man, leave them groping for an explanation. The same can be said about many diseases.1
If we compromise with the secular worldview and accept that natural disasters have been going on for millions of years, it means we believe that there was death, disease, violence and suffering long before the Fall, when Adam and Eve rebelled against God. But if we accept what God has told us in the Bible, rather than what secular scientists tell us, we believe that all natural disasters are ultimately a consequence of man’s rebellion against God. The Bible tells us that the original creation was “very good” (Gen. 1:31)—which means perfect—and this, surely, means that the world was free from all suffering. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the whole creation was affected (Gen. 3:14–19; Rom. 8:18–25; Col. 1:19–20). We are told that the whole creation is now “in the bondage of corruption” and is “groaning”. It is awaiting the day of resurrection, when Jesus will return and create a new heaven and a new earth.
Those who compromise with the secular view have to believe that events like the Haiti earthquake were part of God’s “very good” creation before the Fall. No wonder those eminent church leaders had difficulty answering the questions put to them!
Another aspect of their compromise with the secular view is their rejection of the global Flood of Noah’s day. According to the Bible, this was a disaster that dwarfs every other disaster in the history of the world, with much greater loss of life—and yet it was sent by God. It was God’s judgment on the wickedness of man. But many church leaders in the West do not like to talk about the wrath of God. They prefer to ignore it and concentrate only on the love of God, thus distorting what God actually says about himself in the Bible. If we leave God’s wrath and judgment of sin out of the equation, how can we possibly reconcile human (and animal) suffering with God’s love? (Note that the victims of disasters today are not greater sinners than other people—see Luke 13:1–5.)
Much more can be said in answer to the questions raised by the Haiti earthquake.2 For example, one purpose of “the Curse” is to make us understand the seriousness of sin and to drive us back to God. The extraordinary nature of what God did to save us from the full consequences of sin indicates how desperately important it is to get right with Him. He himself came into the world as a human being and paid the full penalty for our sin on the cross. He suffered as no other human has suffered, before or since.
However, we cannot know all the answers. God did not answer all Job’s questions, and He does not answer all ours either—questions such as “Why did God create anything at all, if He knew what it would lead to?” But He has provided us with sufficient evidence of His existence, and of His power, wisdom and love. And He has told us all that we need to know—enough for us to trust Him, love Him and obey Him.
- Gurney, R.J.M., What about parasites? Creation 31(3):34–37, 2009. Return to text.
- See, for example, the booklet How Can God Allow Suffering? by Gerard Chrispin, Day One, 2008. Return to text.
Hi, I just wanted to comment on why I believe God created us if He knew we would sin.
I was actually asked this question by my 6 year old son.
The Lord gave me some words I thought I would share with you in this regard.
God created us even though we would sin because He wants us to love Him with a free will and not be forced to love Him, this being consistent with His nature. Having a free will means we can love or reject God freely, thus we can sin if we so choose.
So God prepared the plan of salvation even before creation, and chose this from His free will. Note that He created man in His own image including free will.
Let me know what you think.
Thanks for your comment.
I believe you gave your son a good reply. God is preparing a people after His own heart for eternity with Him; that is the eternal purpose of God that explains the freedom He created mankind with at the beginning, which then resulted in sin and suffering.
Here is another short piece on the logic of God being good but allowing evil for a time for a higher eternal purpose: Problem of evil.
There are other articles under: Death and Suffering Questions and Answers
Thank you for a helpful article. I believe God HAS answered the question in the last paragraph:”Because it was worth it”. “Jesus … who for the joy that was set before him endured the Cross”, Heb. 12:2. Paul called his suffering (shipwrecks, beatings, stoning etc 2 Cor.11:23–28) “momentary affliction” compared to the “eternal weight of glory” prepared for us which is “beyond all comparison”, 2 Cor. 4:17.
Thank you for your article.
And how true is Col 2:8 in the context of Evolution, Secular and Humanist philosophy (or religion)?
Col 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
We don’t have to put aside our mind to love our Lord Jesus.
Thank you for confronting this issue with simplicity and clarity. I would just like to add that it is important to remember that when we use words to “define” God’s character, or his actions,they are necessarily going to fall short. However, scriptures do use certain words without qualification. Love is one such word. “God is Love” (1 John 4:16). Light is another. “God is Light and in Him there is no darkness” (1 John 1:5). Life is yet another “God breathed into him (Adam) the breath of life” (Gen 2:7). God is actually defined by these three characteristics which is why theologians can say that God, in his essence, is “simple.” However, words like “wrath” are used to describe only God’s actions. Never does scriptu! re say that God is wrath. He can be wrathful, but his nature is always love. So, it may be difficult to comprehend with a finite mind, but even when God appears wrathful, we can be confident that even then he is acting out of love. Even his judgments flow from his love for us. I have been really amazed at many of the stories coming out of Haiti of people being very aware in the midst of this disaster of God’s mercy and protection. Furthermore, I think if anyone is being judged, I would say it is those of us who have much and are unthankful and have failed in the past to help or aid one of the world’s poorest nations. Perhaps God is giving us a chance to wake up to the needs there and to really be his life, light, and love in a dark world.