Making Sense of Natural Disasters

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll

Three days after Easter Sunday, 288 tornadoes churned through a section of the southeast, claiming the lives of over 340 people. By the numbers, it is the worst outbreak of twisters since 148 tornadoes caused 304 deaths in 1936.

In Alabama, whole communities were wiped off the map. One aerial photograph shows a mile-wide swath of destruction stretching out as far as the eye can see. A marine with two tours of duty in the Mideast called the devastation “worse than Iraq.”

Survivors tell of loved ones snatched violently from their clasp, swept up and disappearing into a black vortex of debris swirling in excess of 175 miles per hour. Within a few miles of my house in Tennessee, one family lost relatives from four generations. In Alabama dozens of people are still missing. Hundreds have been left homeless in a six-state region.

And yet the human tragedy, so crushing, so heartrending, and so close to home barely registers on the same scale with the recent tsunami in Japan, much less the 2004 Indonesian tsunami. Those disasters claimed in excess of 15,000 and 200,000 lives, respectively.

A recurrent question

Young, old, rich, poor, religious, unreligious; trailers, brick homes, shopping centers, churches. This storm was no respecter of persons or property. For some people it is further evidence that we are alone in a hostile, unsupervised universe that is deaf to our cries and indifferent to our pain. For others, it raises again the question of “why.”

The standard Christian answer, “it’s the consequence of sin and the fall,” can come up short, especially for the victims of nature’s fury. While it is easy to draw a cause-and-effect relationship between man’s moral choices and much of human suffering—diseases, plagues, poverty, and war—man’s culpability for tornadoes, earthquakes, and volcanoes is less than apparent.

So the question remains: Why, in a world created by an all-powerful, all-good God, are natural disasters, which claim hundreds to hundreds of thousands of lives, permitted to exist? Is God a monster or merely a klutz? Continue reading here.

Continue reading here.


Originally published May 21, 2011.

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