The front page of USA Weekend (February 20-22, 2009) had these words. “Volcanoes. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Are they disasters or blessings? What the experts say may surprise you.” Then, the inside story presents first, “the bad and the ugly” on each of five natural disasters: wildfires, volcanoes, landslides, hurricanes, and earthquakes. That is, our first thoughts of natural disasters picture their destructiveness. Thus, it does not seem necessary to present the loss of natural resources, property, and lives that these catastrophes wreak. Our minds are vivid with stories and pictures of these common and uncommon events.
And, commonly associated with these events is the question, “How can a good God allow such evil?” Well, it is obvious that the news media in general these days is hardly supportive of Biblical Christianity. Yet, this article unwittingly proposes a strong argument to deflate the force of that question. And, I will present other evidence, as well. Let us begin with the “natural good” that occurs with these “disasters,” as stated in the Weekend article.
Wildfires allow the continuing survival of forests. They burn dead debris that accumulate under the trees themselves (leaves, needles, and limbs) and undergrowth that would cause greater fires. They also provide vital nutrients in the ashes of what is burned. Volcanoes are responsible for our tropical paradises. They transport “good stuff” for civilizations that includes deposits of lead, zinc, silver, and gold. Ash helps create fertile soil for crops. Landslides cause “gorgeous outcroppings, such as those along the South’s Blue Ridge Parkway. By choking streams, they create “pools that allow trout and other species to build habitats.” Hurricanes “import good dirt… nourish marsh vegetation… build the land higher … (and bring in) nutrients and minerals.” Finally, earthquakes have the same forces that create our fuel resources: hydrocarbons, such as, coal and gas, and by providing tectonic plates that bring them closer to the surface where they can be tapped. Earthquakes create “natural beauty … mountains and other landscapes…. Over time they have split continents, formed great ocean basins, and built mountains.”
All these “goods,” and the author, Dennis McCafferty, has not even mentioned “God.” I would posit that if God is going to get the blame for such disasters, He ought to get credit for the “good,” as well!
Of course, someone may want to bring up the tremendous loss of human life that occurs in these “natural” disasters. Well, I believe that our naturalist friends are caught on the horns of their own dilemma here. “Animals are people too.” Many of these events may destroy some animals, but they create opportunities for others, as well. So, how can naturalists call these happenings “disaster” for some species and “good” for others? Further, since nature is a blind force, how can they even bring God into the picture? Why not ask the question, “Why does Nature allow these catastrophes?” To rail against God, when they do not believe in Him, and to deny their own belief in the “survival of the fittest” is surely as great a divergence in consistency of worldview and philosophy, as one could conceive.
But, let us suppose that some naturalists (or maybe for the Christian’s own completeness of reasoning) would be unwilling to equate the “good” that happens from these disasters with the loss of human lives. That challenge can be answered in this way. (1) These events provide or enhance the availability of life-sustaining materials and nutrients, as mentioned above. So, while many human lives are lost, many others are enhanced and sustained. The contrast lies in the time period. Disasters destroy life immediately. Their provision for lives takes place over many years, decades, and even centuries.
(2) From a personal perspective, there are many, many accounts in which both Christians and non-Christians talk enthusiastically about how their lives were enhanced by what they first considered a disaster. Families blessed by orphans that are adopted. Displaced persons meet the “love of their lives.” Lives changed for the better because persons had come face to face with the brevity and tenuous nature of life. And on and on the stories go.
The major point of this review and discussion is that theodicy, the challenge of God’s goodness in the face of evil, does not necessarily require a carefully crafted theological or philosophical argument. There is great evidence within and about the disasters themselves that provide for a balance of “goods” and “evils.” And these come from non-Christians, as well, as we have seen with the article that began this review.
One of my favorite phrases is, “This is my Father’s world.” If properly studied, and attempts made to remove biases, His truth will be found in both nature and in humanistic scientific studies.
As an aside, if I am ever asked, “How can a good God allow such evil?” I plan to answer that question with a question, “Which God are you asking about?” And, then, I would push for an answer. If they want to challenge the God of Biblical Christianity, they are going to have to define Him for me. I cannot imagine any reporter being able to give an adequate definition. Most Christians, even, cannot adequately define God. But the Westminster Confession of Faith does in Chapter 2, Section 1.
Just for the record. If someone did define God adequately, I would answer the question in this way. “The God of the Bible is perfectly righteous. He can do no wrong or evil. Therefore, your idea of “evil” is wrongly conceived. It only has the appearance of evil from man’s lowly (in comparison to God’s) and limited perspective.
Many more of our supposed dilemmas could be answered by a Biblical understanding of God!
For more on the unnecessary problem of “evil” in God’s universe, see Gordon Clark’s God and Evil: The Problem Solved at www.trinityfoundation.org
For another perspective that honors the Sovereignty of God and the “deservedness” of victims, see The God of Disasters.