Natural Disasters and the Character of God

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll

Harvey, Irma, and Jose are the latest in a long list of recent disasters inflicting widespread violence on man and nature.

In 2011, a super outbreak of tornadoes claimed the lives of over 340 people in the Southeast. In Alabama whole communities were wiped off the map. Within a few miles of my home in Tennessee, one family lost relatives from four generations. Only a few weeks earlier, a Japanese tsunami claimed 15,000 lives, and seven years before that 200,000 people were killed in an Indonesian tsunami.

No respecters of property or persons, these disasters decimated trailers, brick homes, shopping centers, and churches, killing people who were young, old, rich, poor, religious, and unreligious. To some people it is 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 cause so much devastation on his creation, permitted to exist? Is God a monster, a klutz, or just an ill-conceived human invention?

Over the last several decades, one of the most striking discoveries in science is the integrated complexity of the universe. The array of physical constants and relationships that give structure to the cosmos are so precise and interdependent that if any were varied but a smidgeon, life as we know it would not exist.

Even bristling atheist Steven Weinberg who is a theoretical physicist admits that the host of delicately balanced parameters is “far beyond what you could imagine just having to accept as a mere accident.” That the scientific evidence points to a cosmos of intention, rather than chance, is unsettling for Weinberg and his ilk of scientistic peddlers—so unsettling that they have had to conjure up stories of parallel worlds and multiverses to keep their thoroughgoing materialism from collapsing like a dying star.

Imagine driving cross-country and stopping in a town you’ve never been. Tired and hungry, you look for a motel, and then,

“There’s one! Just beyond that stop light.” The sign flashes, “VACANCY.”

You pull up, check in, and take the key card.

“Room 1028. Interesting; that’s my birthday, October 28.”

 Opening the room door, your jaw goes slack.

A copy of your favorite painting, Van Gogh’s “Avenue of the Poplars in Autumn,” is hanging on the wall; your favorite aria, “Mio Babbino Cara,” is playing on the radio; there’s a basket stuffed with all of your favorite snacks; the complimentary toiletries are the exclusive brands that you buy; and spread out on the coffee table are the latest editions of Golf DigestNumismatist News and Skeptic—periodicals that you had been waiting anxiously to read back home.

The set of coincidences is so unlikely that any reasonable person would assume that the motel staff knew you and that you were coming. And yet the coincidences in our cosmic home are far greater in number and in precision. Indeed, researchers have identified dozens of features that have to be just the way they are for life to exist.

By all appearances earth is a place thoughtfully designed for us, except for those sporadic hostilities of nature. But maybe those hostilities were not part of the original creation. Continue reading. 

Originally published September 12, 2017.

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