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Index To Section 3a .. Barriers To Faith

 

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 Natural Disasters and a Benevolent God?

Carol Brooks

Introduction

Satan, Not God is Responsible For Natural Disasters

Are All Disasters a Heavenly Rebuke?
Religious Leaders Are Not The Only Ones Pointing Fingers
How Do They Know?
What The Bible Says

Can God Not Control Conditions that Cause Disasters?

Natural Laws

That Once Perfect World
Reasons For The Flood
Results of The Flood

Natural Phenomena May Play A Vital Role

What Constitutes A Disaster?

Human Fallibility
Chile and Haiti
San Francisco, Quetta and Mexico City
Bam, Iran
New Orleans
Floods, Abuse and Famine
Volcanoes

Harbingers of the Final Judgment
Escalation of Disasters in The End Times

Atheism Has No Answers

The Redemption of Creation

 


Introduction:
Theodicy is a specific branch of theology and philosophy which attempts to reconcile belief in God with the perceived existence of evil, whether it be moral or natural evil.

The difference between the two being that moral evil has it’s genesis in the hearts of man and manifests itself in theft, murder, deceit, etc and for this man has no one to blame but himself.. On the other hand, natural evil is rooted in extreme expressions of the Earth's natural processes, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornados and floods.

The purpose of this article is to tackle the question of how tragedies that derive from natural phenomena can be reconciled with a supposedly good, benevolent God?

    As an aside, It is distressing that natural disasters are often termed “acts of God”, but He is never praised for a weeks and years of peace, good weather and the breath taking natural wonders that make our spirits soar. Why isn’t beautiful weather referred to as “an act of God.”

Nothing makes us feel more frail and almost insignificant than to be confronted and, all too often, beaten down by the raw power of “Nature’s fury”. In a matter of seconds a cataclysmic natural disaster can tear down what took decades or even centuries to build, killing thousands of humans as if they were so many matchstick figures. Earthquakes and Tornados irreparably alter once-familiar landscapes, while Hurricanes sweep in from the open ocean and demolish practically everything in their path. Tsunamis and Flash Floods bury all vestiges of human effort and existence under a terrifying wall of water many feet deep. And Volcanoes cover the surrounding miles in unimaginably hot lava and noxious gases, often spreading a veil of grey ash for great distances.

Man has kept a grim log of these tragedies that are neither isolated nor infrequent. The following data has been excerpted from an article entitled The Worst Natural Disasters Ever By LiveScience [1]  and Wikipedia’s list of natural disasters. [2]

  • 1138 - Aleppo earthquake in Syria, killed about 230,000
  • 1556 - Shaanzi, China, earthquake killed 830,000.
  • 1815 - Tambora, Indonesia, volcano of 1815. 80,000 people died in the subsequent famine
  • 1931 - Yellow River flood, estimated to have killed 1 million to 3.7 million people via drowning, disease, ensuing famines and droughts. The river also had flooded catastrophically in 1887, killing nearly as many.
  • 1970 - Bhola cyclone, the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded, struck East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and India's West Bengal killing an estimated 500,000 people primarily as a result of the storm surge that flooded much of the low-lying islands of the Ganges Delta.
  • 1976 – The magnitude-8 Tangshan earthquake in China is estimated to have killed somewhere between 255,000 and 655,000 people.
  • Dec. 26, 2004 - The magnitude-9.3 Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami is estimated to have killed more than 225,000 people. It affected a broader region and more people than any modern disaster.
  • August 2005 - Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,800 people and is the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. More so than any U.S. disaster in recent decades, its effects linger even today as New Orleans and many coastal communities still struggle to get back on their feet.
  • 2010 – The death toll from the January 12th Haiti earthquake will probably never be known with any certainty. However it is believed that more than 230,000 people have perished.

In the aftermath of every tragedy there are those who ask “Why?” ..a question that can not be taken lightly especially when asked by someone standing on the charred remains of his home. The sheer scale of many natural calamities and the resulting death, destruction and human misery can not only test the faith of even the firmest believer, but cause many others to question God’s goodness or even His very existence. The logic is simple… If God is behind such disasters, how can such a God be either just or loving? Or, if God is not in control of the nature He is said to have created, He is certainly not all powerful and something less than God… in which case why should we worship Him? Others take the stand that since a benevolent God could not possibly allow these things to happen, there must not be a God.

A Christian cannot dismiss the Tsunami disaster as a freak of nature, caused by the accidental clash of tectonic plates in the Indian Ocean. A Christian who believes in an omnipotent and benevolent God is challenged to go beyond a geological/scientific explanation of disastrous events and explain why God allows disasters like Tsunamis to happen.

It is doubtful that any answer will be completely emotionally satisfying. Nonetheless there are Biblical answers that not only meet the criteria of reason, but refute most of the banal platitudes peddled by those that apparently speak before they give the matter a modicum of thought. Why some so called Christian leaders do not consult God’s word before venturing their opinion is, as usual, a matter of wonder.

One explanation is that …


Satan, Not God is Responsible For Natural Disasters
Citing the case of Job, there are those that believe that Satan is responsible for the calamities that come upon the world… That it is he who makes people believe that God is the cause of their ills and thereby influences them to reproach their maker.

However the Bible nowhere attributes Satan with any control whatsoever over the forces of nature.

Although He is called the “prince of this world” [See 2 Corinthians 4:4, John 12:31, Ephesians 6:12 etc.], his power does not seem to extend to control or even influence nature, but seems to be limited to tempt and deceive, which is something we should be very grateful for. If Satan had control over natural forces, the disasters we have already experienced would seem like a walk in the park compared to what he would have unleashed on this planet. Like any terrorist this murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44) would not have missed any opportunity to destroy as much as possible of God’s creation and redemption.

It is sometimes thought that in the book of Job God allowed Satan to use hostile people and natural forces to wreak destruction. However several passages in Job make it clear that he himself, and his relatives, all understood the calamities to be the work of God, not of Satan. In the book of John, Job is quoted as saying

     “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken; blessed be the name of the Lord” [John 1:21]

Other passages that quote both Job and God Himself clearly indicate that although Satan had a hand in Job’s afflictions, it was God who was finally responsible. [All Emphasis Added]

    Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" [Job 2:10]

    Then all his brothers and all his sisters and all who had known him before came to him, and they ate bread with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the LORD had brought on him. [Job 42:11]

Note God words to Satan in Job 2:3…

    And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause."

Which means that we can rule Satan out as a cause of some of this world’s afflictions.


Are All Disasters a Heavenly Rebuke?
Every time there is a natural disaster, some one or the other will be quoted as saying that the tragedy was God’s judgment on a sinful people.. Apparently the idea has been alive and well for centuries unrestricted by religion or race. One cannot help but be reminded of Job's "friends," who in essence questioned what Job must have done to deserve the tragedies that befell him.

When the Great Earthquake and Fire struck San Francisco in April 1906, a few of the clergymen whose pulpits had survived proclaimed the earthquake and fire as a punishment from God. However note that the Hotaling Building, used as a whiskey warehouse, survived.

Jerry Falwell and  Pat Robertson blamed abortionists, gays and lesbians for bringing about the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Evangelist Ray Comfort and others linked the 2008 California fires that burned down well over half a million acres of forest land with the state’s legalization of same sex marriages (The fires started on June 20th, three days later).

The December 26th 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami caused some Muslim imams in Saudi Arabia to preach that

    The killer wave that swallowed tens of thousands of Muslims was an act of Allah designed to punish the Christians… Saudi cleric Muhammad Al-Munajiid explained God's tsunami punishment of Christians stemmed from "the Christian holidays [that] are accompanied by forbidden things, by immorality, abomination, adultery, alcohol, drunken dancing and revelry [3]

In the latest round (on the 17th of April 2010) a a senior Iranian cleric said promiscuous women are responsible for earthquakes. He warned worshippers in Tehran  that they had to stick to strict codes of modesty to protect themselves. [3b]

After Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans and other cities along the Gulf coast in 2005, CBS News ran a piece entitled "Is God Mad at Us?" citing Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami etc  as possible evidence for the Almighty being really ticked off at us. [4]

Ovadia Yosef, a prominent ultra-Orthodox Israeli rabbi, declared that Hurricane Katrina was a punishment meted out by God as a result of U.S. President George W. Bush’s support for the Gaza and northern West Bank disengagement, and because not enough people study the Torah. [5]

Some Christian religious conservatives ventured the idea that Katrina was sent by God as an omen or as a punishment for America's sins.

    Charles Colson speculated that God allowed Hurricane Katrina as a reminder to the United States of the importance of winning the "war on terror". 

    Hal Lindsey said that Katrina was proof that "judgment of America has begun" and

    Pat Robertson linked Katrina to legalized abortion. [6]

Pat Robertson suggested Haiti has been cursed ever since the population swore a pact with the Devil to gain their freedom from the French at the beginning of the 19th Century. Apparently the Haitian earthquake was judgment for their pact with the devil and, of course, their ongoing practice of voodoo. 


Religious Leaders Are Not The Only Ones Pointing Fingers

    The massive 8.3 earthquake on the Bihar-Nepal border caused Mahatma Gandhi to state that perhaps the earthquake was a punishment for the sin of untouchability. [7]

    Actress Sharon Stone, voiced the opinion that the devastating earthquake in China in May 2008 might have been "karma" for the Communist nation's treatment of Tibet and the Dalai Lama. [8]

All of which begs the question…
 

How Do They Know?
How do these people know that these natural calamities were specifically linked to the sins of the individuals who suffered or perished in them? Is every flood, every fire, every volcanic eruption, every hurricane a heavenly rebuke? And, if not, which disasters are part of that judgment and which are not?

Also how do we explain the righteous who died alongside the sinners that may have deserved to be punished? There were plenty of Christian organizations in Haiti and plenty of Bible believing Christians in New Orleans who suffered along side every one else. Why would God allow so many of His followers to be injured, and killed in His judgment on the sinners? Or are we to consider them merely as collateral damage? Which would be in complete contrast to the pattern usually followed by God. In the Old Testament, God spared His people from His wrath. He brought them unscathed through the plagues of Egypt, the Red Sea and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, just as He will bring His people through His final judgment on this earth. So why would Haiti and New Orleans be any different?
 

[See The Interlude Between The Sixth and Seventh Seals when God’s people are sealed, which means that they will not only be protected from God’s wrath, but will be the "first fruits” or the first ones "purchased from among men"]
 

Hurricane Katrina has been linked to a “burgeoning Gulf Coast gambling industry, with a new casino that was to open on Labor Day weekend” and the 34th Annual gay, lesbian and transgender "Southern Decadence" Labor Day gala to be held from August 31st to September 5th… expected to draw 100,000 visitors and millions of dollars to the New Orleans business community and local government”  [9]

In which case why weren’t Vegas and San Francisco flattened as well, or does God just have lousy aim? Albert Mohler takes it a step further…

    “Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos? Why do so many murderous dictators live to old age while many missionaries die young?” [10]

The fact is that unless God specifically said so, Pat Robertson did not have any way of knowing the earthquake was God's judgment on the Haitians for voodoo, and Charles Colson and Hal Lindsey had no inside information that tied Hurricane Katrina to a determined act of God.

This does not mean that Haitians will never have to answer for their spiritual darkness and the people of New Orleans for their "Southern Decadence". They will stand in judgment along with the rest of humanity. “God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts — there would be no hope” . [10]

While it is true that God is quite capable of using natural disasters as judgment, and has done so in the past, we should never assume that a natural disaster or moral atrocity comes upon this earth as His specific judgment on specific people, but be wise enough to see what He Himself has to say on the matter. And, when we do, we find that Jesus made it very clear that no correlation can be made between disaster and the morality of the people involved.


What The Bible Says

Job: Proof that every tragedy that befalls people is not a judgment on their sin, and that bad things sometimes do happen to the best people, is to be found in the book of Job. God Himself identified Job as a man so righteous there was no one like him on the earth..

    There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil… The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil." [Job 1:18]

Yet tragedy after tragedy befell ‘the best man’ on earth.
 

Sun and Rain: In Matthew 5:45 Jesus points out that God makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. God sends good and bad weather to everyone, regardless of the goodness or wickedness of its recipients. Some have argued that this verse refers to God's blessings upon all people... which is technically correct. However the point is that people's behavior does not influence their fortunes on earth.
 

Tower of Siloam: In the book of Luke some of the crowd told Jesus that the Roman governor Pilate, for reasons unknown, had worshippers killed while they were offering sacrifices at the temple.

    Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." [Luke 13:1-5]

Then, as now, people probably felt that the victims had to have been really bad sinners to have suffered and died as they did. Jesus’ not only soundly refuted this idea, but warned His listeners that unless they repented, they too would perish in the same way. He then reinforced His point with the example of an accident in which 18 people were killed when the tower in Siloam collapsed on them, saying that those that perished in this tragedy were no worse culprits than all other men in Jerusalem.

Jesus is clearly discrediting the idea that there is an automatic connection between disaster and the morality of the people involved. Moreover, in John 9:1-3, He is equally clear that there is no automatic connection between sickness (or disability) and sin.

    As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.


Can God Not Control Conditions that Cause Disasters?
Those who take this standpoint believe that natural calamities are caused by natural laws which are beyond God’s control. God loves human beings and is sorry to see them suffer, but is incapable of preventing any form of disaster, whether natural or induced by humans.

In his popular 1981 book When Bad Thing Happen To Good People author Rabbi Harold Kushner articulates the view that while God does not send misfortunes to punish the wicked, He cannot intervene to stop these disasters. Rabbi Kushner comes to the conclusion that God can be understood as all-knowing and all-loving but not all-powerful. He believes

    “that even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check and limiting the damage that evil can do” (p. 43).

Kushner says…

    “I recognize His limitations. He is limited in what He can do by the laws of nature and by the evolution of human nature and human moral freedom” (p. 134).

In other words, “God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequences of our being human and being mortal. Living in a world of inflexible natural laws.”

This view can be very appealing to many Christians since it lets God off the hook.. so to speak. If God has not control over natural laws He can not be blamed for the disasters that occur with unfailing regularity. However, no Christian can read the Bible and not come to the conclusion that God has sovereign rule over all his creation, all of the time. That He can use nature to do His bidding whenever He pleases. It is very hard to believe that God is not powerful enough to halt a major natural disaster, yet Jesus taught that not a single sparrow can fall to the ground apart from the Father [Matthew 10:29]. Among other verses to consider are...

    Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; [Genesis 19:24] 

    "Or the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good land which the LORD is giving you. [Deuteronomy 11:17]

    Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. [Exodus 14: 21-22]

    And I also have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest; and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered. [Amos 4:7]

    Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. [James 5:17]

Job asks a rhetorical question which makes it clear that he believed that God controlled the forces of nature. The Psalmist echoes the thought.

    "Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb . . . and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'?" [Job 38:8, 11]

    O LORD God of hosts, who is like You, O mighty LORD? Your faithfulness also surrounds You. You rule the swelling of the sea; When its waves rise, You still them. [Psalm 89:9]

    Fire and hail, snow and vapor; Stormy wind, fulfilling his word; [Psalm 148:8]

Jesus exercised control over the storm that threatened to swamp the boat that He and His disciples were in.

    They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. [Luke 8:24]

In fact the book of Revelation describes many events which could easily be characterized as natural disasters, although we can not state with any degree of certainty that they will be. [See The Judgment of God... The First Six Trumpets]

So if God is capable of controlling the forces of nature then does He have a responsibility to stop natural calamities like earthquakes and tidal waves? Which bring up the problem of …


Natural Laws
The following excerpts from two different authors show that the world we now live in is governed by natural laws and that there are many things constructive to human life that can also be destructive to human life.

    “If a man steps off the roof of a five-story building, gravity will pull him to the pavement beneath. If a boy steps in front of a moving freight train, since two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, the train will strike the child and likely kill him. The same laws that govern gravity, matter in motion, or similar phenomena also govern weather patterns, water movement, and other geological/meteorological conditions. All of nature is regulated by these laws, not just the parts that we find convenient.

Second, some disasters may be the by-product of something that itself is good. In addressing this point, Norman Geisler has noted:

    In a physical world where there is water for boating and swimming, some will drown. If there are mountains to climb, there must also be valleys into which one may fall. If there are cars to drive, collisions can also occur. It may be said that tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are likewise by-products of a good physical world. For instance, the purpose of rain is not to flood or drown, but the result of rain may include these disasters. Likewise, hot and cold air are an essential and purposeful part of the physical world, but under certain conditions they may combine to form tornadoes (1978, p. 72, emp. in orig.).

    The natural laws that God created allow man to produce fire. But the same laws that enable him to cook his food also allow him to destroy entire forests. Laws that make it possible to have things constructive to human life also introduce the possibility that things destructive to human life may occur. How can it be otherwise? A car is matter in motion, and takes us where we wish to go. But if someone steps in front of that car, the same natural laws that operate to our benefit will operate in a similar fashion to our detriment.

    Third, natural laws are both inviolate and non-selective. Everyone must obey them or suffer the consequences. In Luke 13:2-5, Jesus told the story of eighteen men who perished when the tower of Siloam collapsed. Had these men perished because of their sin? No, they were no worse sinners than their peers. They died because a natural law was in force. Fortunately, natural laws work continually so that we can understand and benefit from them. We are not left to sort out some kind of haphazard system that works one day, but not the next.

Those who rail against God because of natural disasters often are overheard to ask, “But why can’t God ‘selectively intervene’ to prevent disasters?” Bruce Reichenbach has addressed this question:

    Thus, in a world which operates according to divine miraculous intervention, there would be no necessary relation between phenomena, and in particular between cause and effect. In some instances one event would follow from a certain set of conditions, another time a different event, and so on, such that ultimately an uncountable variety of events would follow a given set of conditions. There would be no regularity of consequence, no natural production of effects.... Hence, we could not know or even suppose what course of action to take to accomplish a certain rationally conceived goal. Thus, we could neither propose action nor act ourselves (1976, p. 187).

    If God suspended natural laws every time His creatures were in a dangerous situation, chaos would corrupt the cosmos, arguing more for a world of atheism than a world of theism!

How, then, exactly, would the unbeliever suggest that an understandable, dependable world be created, and operated, other than the way ours presently is? How could natural disasters be prevented, while maintaining natural laws and human freedom?” [11]

Frederica Mathewes-Green an Eastern Orthodox author talks about how it would be possible to limit suffering. She writes

    OK, earthquakes. Would you have constructed the world some other way, without plate tectonics? Great! That was an easy one.

    But if “Earthquake” was the worst kind of natural disaster, whatever was number two now automatically becomes number one—tidal waves, maybe, or volcanoes. People won’t be grateful for the non-existence of earthquakes, like they’re not grateful for the non-existence of Skin Melt Disease. As long as there are any natural disasters, something’s going to be worst.

    And, yes, it’s unfair that some victims of disaster are miraculously saved, while others die. How do you want to make it fair? Nobody gets miracles, or everybody does?

    Let’s just go ahead and eliminate all natural disasters, anything caused by changes in weather, earth, or sea. But even stuff that’s just sitting there can kill you. You can fall into a pool of water and drown.

    Would you make it so that couldn’t happen? Would you do that by changing the nature of water, or changing the nature of lungs?

    Maybe water would have a tough skin, so you’d hit the surface and bounce. But how would we drink it? Would you change the way our bodies take in water? Or maybe we wouldn’t need water? Would we need something else instead?

    Don’t forget gravity. We’ve eliminated earthquakes, but what kills people in earthquakes is being crushed by things that fall on them. Stuff can fall, even without an earthquake. Would you make it so gravity doesn’t pull things down on people? …No, that whole train of thought is problematic.

    When you say that if there was a truly omnipotent God, he could have prevented suffering, do you mean that God could have made things differently? [12]

The world we live in is very complex and we can not lay the blame for natural calamities at any one door. But could God have made things just a little bit differently as the above author asks? Perhaps He did!

In order to discover what kind of world God created, we have to step back in time to the beginning… to the book of Genesis.


That Once Perfect World 
After the six days of creation God rested on the 7th day, which He would not have done had there been anything else He wanted to create, or if anything He had already created needed to be changed or redone…

That He rested because He was satisfied with what had been done is emphasized by the fact that at the end of each of the first five days God saw that what He had created was “good” and, after the sixth day when He created both land animals and the first people, He pronounced it “very good” [Genesis 1:31]. While we may never know precisely what conditions prevailed at the time, He is unlikely to have pronounced the world very good if it even remotely resembled the one we live in today.. There quite simply could not have been hurricanes, tornados, floods, erupting volcanoes, earthquakes or Tsunamis.

Not only did God place humankind in this perfect environment, He placed them in a garden that offered both beauty and sustenance

    And the Lord planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed… [Genesis 2:8]

    Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; [Genesis 2:15]

Note that the word Eden, which signifies pleasure or delight, is the name of a particular geographical location [See Genesis 4:16; 2 Kings 19:12; Isaiah 37:12; Ezekiel 27:23; Amos 1:5]. In fact of the four rivers named, two are known to us today.
 

Reasons For The Flood: But the peace and tranquility of Eden was soon shattered by the disobedience of our parents. Their act of disobedience, commonly known as The Fall, affected not only the future of the entire human race, but also the physical world. Although we do not understand it completely, there is little doubt that Adam’s sin did have an adverse affect on nature. Genesis 3:17 tells us that God cursed the ground because of Adam and Eve’s sin.

However it did not end there. The situation rapidly deteriorated after man’s expulsion from the garden.

     “And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all that they chose. And Jehovah said, My spirit shall not strive with man for ever, for that he also is flesh: yet shall his days be a hundred and twenty years. The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them: the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown: [Genesis 6:1-4]

Followed by

    "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, 'I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air'" (Genesis 6:5-7).

The global destruction of the earth caused by the Flood, was God's judgment on an earth that had corrupted itself beyond imagination..
 

[See As It Was In The The Days Of Noah
The exact nature of the bizarre events described in Genesis 6:1-4 are exceedingly controversial, but it does not pay to gloss over them as they are exceedingly important and could very well affect every one of us in the not too distant future. Jesus Himself said "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man," (Matt 24:37 and Luke 17:26). He linked these two epochs together and said that one is the parallel of the other.]


Results of The Flood:
The Bible indicates that the waters of the Flood came from two sources:

    on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. (Genesis 7:11)

The “fountains of the great deep” were probably subterranean sources of water, which means an immense quantity of waters occupied the center of the antediluvian earth. One has to wonder whether the strata of the earth sunk in as this water poured out, and whether it was this enormous flood that broke the lithosphere (the crust and the uppermost mantle, which constitute the hard outer layer of the Earth) into moving plates. In other words …havoc of unbelievable extent reigned in God's creation.

Regardless of whether this is completely accurate or not, it seems reasonable to assume that the Flood radically changed the topography and geology of the entire planet... that there were  catastrophic changes in the environment permanently altering the face and formation of the earth. [Also See The Flood.. Local Or Global?]. And although the flood waters eventually receded and Noah’s family began to pick up where they once left off, the damage was done. The planet was no longer the idyllic place that had been once created... the widespread evil in Noah’s day precipitated the Flood and was ultimately responsible for the changes that cause various natural disasters.

In spite of this there seems to be evidence that at least some natural phenomena actually plays a vital role in man’s very survival.


Natural Phenomena May Play A Vital Role 
Hugh Ross talk about the good side of Hurricanes and Earthquakes

    Hurricanes counterbalance the ocean’s tendency to leach carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This leaching, if unchecked, would result in a catastrophic cooling of the planet. On the other hand, hurricanes prevent the oceans from trapping too much of the sun’s heat by helping to circulate greenhouse gases globally as they shade the ocean locally, preventing heat from building up too dramatically for the safety of certain sea creatures.” [13]

    Likewise earthquakes play a vital role in providing for mankind’s survival. Without them, “nutrients essential for land life would erode off the continents and accumulate in the oceans. In a relatively brief time, land creatures, at least the advanced species, would starve.” [14] But thanks to the movements of the Earth’s tectonic plates, these nutrients are recycled back onto the continents.
    [15]

In a 2003 book entitled Rare Earth, authors  Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee an eminent paleontologist and an astronomer at the University of Washington in Seattle trace the degree to which our planet appears fine-tuned for complex life. We know that natural disasters such as earthquakes, seaquakes, and tsunamis are the consequence of plate tectonics, the giant plates that move under the surface of the earth and the ocean floor. About this the authors say

    While natural disasters occasionally wreak havoc, our planet needs plate tectonics to produce the biodiversity that enables complex life to flourish on earth. Without plate tectonics, earth's land would be submerged to a depth of several thousand feet. Fish might survive in such an environment, but not humans.

    Plate tectonics also help regulate the earth's climate, preventing the onset of scorching or freezing temperatures that would make mammalian life impossible. In sum, plate tectonics are a necessary prerequisite to human survival on the only planet known to sustain life. [16]

[Also See Anthropic Principles]

So if hurricanes and earthquakes etc do contribute to the survival of complex life on earth, how do we reconcile this with the fact that they also take life by the thousands. Unfortunately, factors like human need, carelessness, indifference or greed greatly multiply the extent of the destruction and fatalities caused by natural disasters.


What Constitutes A Disaster?
The number of humans in the area affected is often of greater consequence than the power of the natural forces involved. In a vastly smaller population, most natural disasters would not have been anywhere near as destructive as they were. In fact we are unlikely to even call them a “disaster” if they happen on a remote or uninhabited island out in the middle of the ocean somewhere. Natural disasters become “disastrous” when they take human life.

    It is when people “accidentally or intentionally get in the way of nature, or cannot get out of the way of natural occurrences that we call them disasters and start asking sticky questions about God and how the universe runs.” [17]

But the problem is that more and more people are living in high risk areas. According to a report published by the World Bank, in more than 160 countries, over a quarter of the population live in areas of high mortality risk from natural disasters. “As you put more and more people in [harm’s] way, you make a disaster out of something that before was just a natural event,” says scientist Klaus Jacob of Columbia University in the United States. [18]


Human Fallibility 
Earthquake, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes all occur as extreme expressions of Earth's natural processes, but disasters occur when human beings fail to prepare for these inevitable events. The human factor is a huge contributing factor in turning an earthquake into a major disaster, for it is not the shock wave of energy that causes most deaths and injuries but collapsing buildings. In other words…  Earthquakes don’t kill people. Buildings kill people.

Quite simply we cannot lay everything at God’s door. 

Chile and Haiti: Compare the recent magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile, with the magnitude 7.0 quake in Haiti.

    The huge earthquake that struck off the coast of Chile belongs to an "elite class" of mega earthquakes, experts said, and is similar to the 2004 Indian Ocean temblor that triggered deadly tsunami waves. The magnitude-8.8 quake was a type called a "megathrust," considered the most powerful earthquake on the planet. Megathrusts occur when one tectonic plate dives beneath another. Saturday's tremor unleashed about 50 gigatons of energy and broke about 250 miles of the fault zone, said U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Paul Caruso. [19]

In other words the Chilean earthquake, believed to be the fifth largest quake ever recorded, had 500 times the energy of the one that hit Haiti in January. Yet

    Having suffered a devastating tsunami following a magnitude 9.5 earthquake in 1960 -- the largest earthquake ever recorded -- Chileans knew what was coming. Reports indicate that alarms were sounded in the town of San Juan Bautista on Robinson Crusoe Islands, for example, possibly saving hundreds of lives. That preparedness is also reflected in Chile's building codes, another lesson of the 1960 quake. Strong buildings (along with Chile's relative affluence and robust infrastructure) likely saved thousands of lives and prevented this disaster from approaching the magnitude of the continuing horrors in Haiti. [20]

    Because of Haiti's poverty, political struggles, and lack of a building code, the country was brought to its knees. In other words, human fallibility was responsible for the disaster in a very real way. Chile on the other hand, spent much more time and money preparing for a quake. The one they endured was 500 times more powerful than the Haiti temblor and yet the country came through mostly in one piece. [21]


San Francisco, Quetta and Mexico City:
Culpability for the death of thousands of people in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 1935 earthquake in Quetta, Pakistan and 1985 Mexico City earthquake was largely laid at the door of “Dishonest mortar”, poor constructional quality of the buildings and second-rate workmanship. The 1989 earthquake in war-torn Armenia, caused poorly-engineered houses of unreinforced concrete to collapse on their occupants during the night. The number of fatalities exceeded 25,000. [22]


Bam, Iran:
Similarly “It took just 12 seconds, at dawn on 26 December 2003, to annihilate a city. Of the 120,000 inhabitants of Bam, between 30,000 and 40,000 were killed. Another 30,000 were injured. Practically all the survivors were left homeless, as 85 percent of the city's buildings collapsed. Economic damage totaled US $1.5 billion… the existence of an active fault next to Bam was well-known and shown on the maps. Why was nothing done to protect the city - at least its hospitals?

    …Iran adopted a seismic building code in 1989, legislation is often not applied. To house a soaring population, Iran has been gripped by a lucrative building boom. Sources claim that inspectors, sent to certify new buildings as conforming to earthquake norms, are often paid off by developers without conducting a thorough inspection. Iran's building code holds engineers responsible, but prosecutions of individuals are almost non-existent. There are no laws against negligent municipalities which fail to retrofit infrastructure.” [22b]

It is certain that any time a disaster hits a third-world or otherwise less developed country, the lack of building codes and other safety issues result in a far greater loss of life, than if the disaster had hit a more developed country. However even the US has suffered greatly from totally ignoring warnings.
 

New Orleans: is built in a low-lying, flood-prone area. The loss of coastal marshlands that buffer New Orleans from flooding and storm surges may have worsened the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Hurricanes quickly lose force when they hit land, but New Orleans is now vulnerable to violent storms because the land around it has been rapidly disappearing. A crucial buffer zone that once protected the area from hurricanes has all but disappeared. [23]

USA Today reported that “long-standing warnings” were either ignored or “met with a halfhearted response”. In fact not only did the levee system lead to the rapid decay of the wetlands, but much of the widespread loss of life was due to the fact that nearly every levee in metro New Orleans was breached.


Floods, Abuse and Famine

As John N. Clayton says

    Frequently human actions are the cause of things that are blamed on God. It is a major irritation to me to hear the news media refer to a flood as "an act of God." The problem is that almost all floods are due to the acts of man. It is man who has paved thousands of acres of dirt preventing rain water from soaking in. It is man who has drained wetlands, straightened rivers, and built shoddy containment structures that fail.

    There are many other areas where human acts are the cause, or at least the catalyst, of things that bring huge pain and problems to mankind. Cancer is caused to a large extent by man-made carcinogens in the environment. These same agents are a major cause of birth defects. Alcohol, smoking, and drug use are major contributors to mental problems and physical problems in children.

    Even man's behavior is a major cause of pain to mankind as a whole. In 41 years of teaching, I worked with many children who had severe behavioral problems, and a large percentage of them were kids who had sexual abuse, neglect, and verbal abuse at home. There can be no question but that sexual abuse is a major contributor to aberrant sexual behavior. "Why did God make me this way?" is a question I have heard many times in working with people who have behavioral problems. Almost universally it has become obvious that the problems are a product of human activity, not God’s creation.

    Human actions also contribute to global human suffering issues. It is a sad fact that much of the world's population goes to bed hungry every night. The problem is not that a deficiency in the earth's design produces a shortage of food. If the money spent on military preparation by all countries of the earth for one week was put into the production of potable water for the earth's people, the food shortage would be over. Once again it is man with his greed, selfishness, desire for political power, and stupidity that is the cause of hunger -- not the failure of God's system. [24]

In fact regarding the last point made …

    The 1985 Ethiopian famine was devastating, yet two years earlier relief agencies working in Ethiopia had warned the government that it was coming. Instead of alleviating the problem, the government spent $200 million on celebrating the independence of the communist takeover. [25]

Yet on the other hand…

Volcanoes
While no-one can control volcanoes, today the suffering which they cause is now at a minimum. Most are carefully watched by scientists, and there is enough forewarning from technology to get humans out of dangers way (i.e. Mt. St. Helens, and the 12 who disregarded the warnings). Thus, except for lost property which can be replaced, there are few who suffer from volcanoes anymore. [25]


Harbingers of the Final Judgment
What is true is that “Disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruption, tornados, and hurricanes can have a sobering effect upon the human mind. They can challenge complacent, self-centered, and self-sufficient people to acknowledge their finiteness and helplessness and thus to seek God” [26]

    Disasters serve as a wake up call to repentance for mankind. Disasters can have a sobering effect upon the human mind. When a war breaks out, or an earthquake destroys countless lives and property, or a drought burns the crops and dries up the water supply, or an epidemic disease victimizes millions of persons, many people will call out to God either in curse or prayer. C. S. Lewis wrote that "pain is God's megaphone to a deaf world."

    It was an earthquake that caused the jailer at Philippi to exclaim: "Men, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30). It was a famine that sent King Ahab searching everywhere for the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:10). It was a plague that brought Pharoah to his knees, confessing before Moses: "I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, I pray you, only this once, and entreat the Lord your God only to remove this death from me" (Ex 10:16-17)…… It was the earthquake which marked the death of Christ that led the centurion and his soldiers to confess, "Truly this was the Son of God" (Matt 27:54). [26]

I do not know whether there is actually a high school in California that has posted a sign which reads: "In the event of an earthquake, the Supreme Court ruling against prayers in school will be temporarily suspended". What I am reasonably certain of is, in case of an earthquake, the Supreme Court’s ruling will be largely ignored.


Escalation of Disasters in The End Times:

The period of time that will precede Jesus’ return and the establishment of the messianic Kingdom will be a time of escalating Natural Disasters, which are what Jesus called "but the beginning of the sufferings" [Matthew 24:8; Mark 13:8]. Jesus’ use of the phrase “the beginning of the sufferings" implies that that they will intensify as the End approaches leaving little doubt that there will be more and worse disasters in the future.

These natural disasters are but a sign of the final judgment to come, and a warning to man that he needs to repent and be saved. As the end times progress, conditions get progressively worse until this earth arrives at the period during which God will pour out His wrath on the earth. This Jesus called the great tribulation. As He said…

    "if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved" [Matthew 24:22; cf. Mark 13:20].

Paul made the point that we can recognize the season of the Lord's return. In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 he stated that even though the day of the Lord will come like "a thief in the night," that day should not overtake believers, unforeseen or unexpected, because we are "children of light,"  and we should “watch and be sober”. Similarly the author of Hebrews states that we are to "encourage one another" as we see the Day of Judgment drawing near (Hebrews 10:25). However the prophet Daniel warned centuries ago that only the ‘wise’ would be able to understand the prophecies. In this the 21st century, many of the Biblical signs of the end times are not only in abundance but as plain as day. However to the spiritually un-discerning the signs mean nothing.

[See The Signs Of The Times   and The Wrath of God]

But have natural disasters already increased? Many say yes, while other are in disagreement. However when they truly start escalating it will be on a scale that will leave no one in any doubt.

According to the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Earthquake Hazards Program

    “Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant.

    A partial explanation may lie in the fact that in the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications. In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more than 8,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by electronic mail, internet and satellite.

    According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 17 major earthquakes (7.0 - 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year.” [27]

[Note that there were four great earthquakes (8.0 or above) in the year 2007. See Chart

In the mean time not only does Christianity have a very good idea as to why Natural Disasters occur, but can also hold out hope for the future. Non believers may scoff and sneer at Christianity, but do not have any of the answers.


Atheism Has No Answers
The humanist cannot explain where the pain and suffering really came from, and has no hope that it will ever go away. He can not even blame it on God as that would necessitate admitting that God exists. He lives his life hoping that tragedy will not befall him but, even if he manages to escape serious affliction, all he has to eventually look forward to is a cold dark grave… which is the biggest tragedy of all. The following post on the Stand to Reason site pretty much sums it up…

    What has atheism to offer in response to suffering? Atheism and Darwinism can only view earthquakes in the cold, materialistic light of naturalism.  Events are random, natural processes with no meaning or purpose. No redemption.  No hope.  No nothing but suffering and death, victims of the natural fates.

    Bertrand Russel, the famous 20th century atheist, once challenged what a Christian would have to say at the bedside of a dying child where God had not intervened to heal.  But what is the atheist’s response?  Too bad.  The only natural response from atheism is "Tough luck, Haiti."  The suffering is not even tragic or evil, it just is the way it is because there is nothing transcendent.  There is no good, there is no evil, there is no tragedy in Darwinism.  There is only survival and natural processes that bring death or spare us for now.  Nothing more.

    The problem of evil is a problem for both Christians and atheists.  The difference is, the Christian worldview has an answer for the human tragedy in Haiti.  Atheism does not. [28]

We can offer help and support in this world and the assurance of a complete absence of suffering in the world to come.


The Redemption of Creation
The Scriptures tell us that one day sin will be removed and His creation restored to its original state. While I do not know what God plans to do with tectonic plates, I do know that …

    The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain, says the Lord (Isaiah 65:25).

While the fall of humanity into sin affected everything, including the physical world, Paul explains in the book of Romans that creation itself is in bondage, but will be set free

    "creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:19-21).

The Bible is the story about the Creator's plan to deal with evil itself and to put the world to rights.

 

Also See What and Where is Heaven?..
Christians who believe they will spend an eternity in "heaven", seem to have little or no idea where this heaven is, what it will look like, or what they will do there. Either they have fleeting, half formed ideas about some ethereal place 'out there', or resort to pious phrases that amount to little more than spiritual gobbledy gook. If this is the best we can do then then it is little wonder that atheists and non Christians are not in the slightest bit interested in our "heaven", and Christians themselves so rarely seem to look forward to the coming of the day of God. Luckily the Bible isn't at all silent on on where "heaven" is and, even more importantly, what it will be like. In fact, the Bible's description of the coming kingdom is far, far, more practical, and a lot less sanctimonious, than that of our theologians. Besides which, many Christians, unfortunately have the idea that since all our sins have been forgiven, our works cannot possibly be considered at some future time. Not true according to I Corinthians 3:9-13. Apparently there are those that will make it to heaven, but who have earned few, if any, additional rewards.

 

End Notes
All URLs accessed April 2010

[1] http://www.livescience.com/history/080506-natural-disasters.html]

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_natural_disasters

[3] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2005/jan/09/20050109-102911-9121r/

[3b] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8631775.stm

[4] http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=944124n

[5] http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3138779,00.html

[6] Katrina linked to Religious conservatives claim Katrina was God's omen, punishment for the United States. September 13, 2005. http://mediamatters.org/research/200509130004

[7] http://www.gandhifoundation.net/articles/g_moral.htm

[8] http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,358402,00.html

[9] http://www.beliefnet.com/News/2005/09/Katrina-Gods-Judgment-On-America.aspx

[10] Albert Mohler. Does God Hate Haiti?
http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/01/14/does-god-hate-haiti/

[11] Bert Thompson, Ph.D. Do Natural Disasters Negate Divine Benevolence? 
http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2207

[12] Frederica Mathewes-Green. Let's Create a Perfect World.
http://www.frederica.com/writings/lets-create-a-perfect-world.html

[13] Hugh Ross, “Hurricanes Bring More Than Destruction,” Facts & Faith 12 (1998), pp.4-5. As Quoted in Good God, Cruel World by Krista Bontrager. http://www.reasons.org/evil-suffering/natural-disasters/good-god-cruel-world

[14] Hugh Ross, “Temblors Touch Off Questions,” Facts & Faith 6.3 (1992), pp. 2-3. As Quoted in Good God, Cruel World by Krista Bontrager.
http://www.reasons.org/evil-suffering/natural-disasters/good-god-cruel-world

[15] Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 2nd ed. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1995), pp. 136-145. As Quoted in Good God, Cruel World by Krista Bontrager. http://www.reasons.org/evil-suffering/natural-disasters/good-god-cruel-world

[16] Dinesh D'Souza. Why We Need Earthquakes.
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/may/12.58.html

[17] Ben Witherington Haiti-- Where Was God?
http://blog.beliefnet.com/bibleandculture/2010/01/haiti---a-case-study-for-theodicy.html

[18] Scientists: Natural Disasters Becoming More Common. By Ker Than, LiveScience Staff Writer.
http://www.livescience.com/environment/051017_natural_disasters.html

[19] http://news.discovery.com/earth/chile-megathrust-quake.html

[20] http://news.discovery.com/earth/why-was-the-chilean-tsunami-so-small.html

[21] Michael Reilly What is God's Role in Natural Disasters?
http://news.discovery.com/earth/what-is-gods-role-in-natural-disasters.html

[22] http://www.seismo.unr.edu/ftp/pub/louie/class/100/effects-kobe.html

[22b] Bam sends warning to reduce future earthquake risks. Website of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Geneva Switzerland. http://www.ifrc.org/publicat/wdr2004/chapter4.asp

[23] Rhett A. Butler.  Environmental problems worsened Hurricane Katrina's impact. August 31, 2005
http://news.mongabay.com/2005/0831-new_orleans_wetlands.html

[24] John N. Clayton. Do Natural Disasters Disprove God's Existence?
http://www.whypain.org/natural_disasters.html

[25] Jay Smith. Why Is There Suffering? http://debate.org.uk/topics/apolog/suffer.htm

[26] Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Retired Professor of Theology and Church History, Andrews University.  "God and Tsunami: What is the Lord Telling Us?"

[27] http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/increase_in_earthquakes.php

[28] http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2010/01/dawkins-lectures-christians.html

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