The Problem of Natural Disasters

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mattrose
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Re: The Problem of Natural Disasters

Post by mattrose » Thu Sep 04, 2014 6:11 pm

TheEditor wrote:
By "I think things happen" are you suggesting that random chance is built into the fabric of creation? Just curious.


This is an interesing question. I suppose it depends on whether someone is going to draw the line with a Magic Marker as opposed to a dull pencil. If I trip and fall, was that built into the fabric of my creation? If wind knocks a house over that was poorly constructed, was that built into the fabric of the house's construction? Some may feel so, in both cases. I'm not so sure. Maybe there were unpreventable factors to my fall, or maybe the house was not expected to withstand high winds due to it's location. I just extend my doubt of God's involvement a little further than the average Evangelical I guess.

I believe that God created the earth and the heavens. The "hows" are left out, as the Bible is a history of faith, and not a science textbook. So, therefore, I don't know what factors the Almighty took into consideration before He delared that it was "good". Did He allow angels to take part in creation? (cf. 2 Chronicles 18:18-22 where God appears to be open to suggestions, and actually approves of one.) If so, what coould we make of that? I may be rambling a bit, but I sometimes wonder if we don't try to make sense of the chaos because we feel helpless and are loathe to accept that God doesn't always intervene where He could, and so we sometimes lay the blame on the other side--the side of darkness--to make sense of it.

Regards, Brenden.
Greg Boyd actually argues FOR the inclusion of some randomness to creation in the book.

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Re: The Problem of Natural Disasters

Post by backwoodsman » Thu Sep 04, 2014 9:22 pm

jarrod wrote:This is just a thought, but I wonder if these "natural disasters" actually benefit the Earth and the ecosystems. We obviously consider them a disaster because of the loss of life and/or damage to property, and rightfully so, but I imagine God designed the tectonic plates, the atmosphere, and other natural occurrences that cause tsunamis, erupting volcanos, hurricanes, tornados, etc.
Astrophysicists tell us the world is amazingly stable, as planets go, and that the combination of stability and hospitability to life can't exist without many of the things we call natural disasters. Furthermore, this stability will last only about another 20,000 years or so at a level that allows for advanced civilization, and a few tens of thousands of years after that, advanced life (i.e., humans) will no longer be possible. We live in a very narrow window of time in which conditions have been specifically designed and very finely tuned to make our existence possible; hence the necessity of a new heavens & new earth at some point in the relatively near future (and so much for full preterism, if I understand it correctly; but I digress).
mattrose wrote:Personally, I have a hard time thinking that God purposefully built a system that includes tsunamis, erupting volcanos, hurricanes, and tornados while simultaneously knowing that this planet would be inhabited by people who would be killed by such events.
Everyone dies sometime, of something, and some common ways it happens are much more unpleasant than the average natural disaster. So I don't see a problem with God creating a system that includes them, especially considering the benefit they provide.

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Re: The Problem of Natural Disasters

Post by mattrose » Thu Sep 04, 2014 10:16 pm

backwoodsman wrote:Everyone dies sometime, of something, and some common ways it happens are much more unpleasant than the average natural disaster. So I don't see a problem with God creating a system that includes them, especially considering the benefit they provide.
No, my statement that you quoted was doubting that God would have created such a system BEFORE the arrival of death and called it 'very good.'

The idea that God would allow natural disasters for reasons you have suggested AFTER death entered the picture can certainly be argued.

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Re: The Problem of Natural Disasters

Post by TheEditor » Thu Sep 04, 2014 10:31 pm

I am not certain that I am fully on board with the idea that these things are not good--maybe it has to do with how we define good.

I read an article years ago in National Geographic about the eye. Since creationists frequently use the eye as an example of amazing creation, the article tersely made mention of the idea that the eye really isn't designed all that well, saying that the eye really was too exposed and easily damaged. I thought the arguument was specious. First off, perhaps the eye was designed as-is for good reason, and mistreatment of it as-is was not really a basis for saying the design was flawed. A man's testicles could similarly be called a poor design since they are subject to being injured and are not well protected. Ammonia and chlorine are not suited to be combined as the result is toxic. We could go on and on with examples of how things are not "good" from our limited perspective.

Therefore, I am a bit chary about seeing things as a result of poor design, as much as I am about seeing them as something God would not have originally intended. Who can know the mind of God?

Regards, Brenden.
[color=#0000FF][b]"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery."[/b][/color]

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Re: The Problem of Natural Disasters

Post by mattrose » Thu Sep 04, 2014 10:58 pm

All that being said... when a tsunami kills 230 thousand people... I have a strong suspicion it wasn't God's original intention.

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Re: The Problem of Natural Disasters

Post by dizerner » Thu Sep 04, 2014 11:07 pm

I can't believe natural disasters happened before the fall. Maybe the earth was kept in a kind of artificial stasis. It's naturally offensive that one person's sin might affect another innocent person, and this is why people reject original sin. I think if we just look around and are actually honest we have to conclude there is something offensive about God to our normal feelings. Perhaps regeneration is the only thing that can cure these feelings, if they can be cured. When we discuss any problem of evil, it always gets emotional and that's the real problem I think. I mean it doesn't even seem like angels were cursed without their own individual choices, and the feeling of fairness and justice is strong in us to drive us away from Scriptural teachings on hell and original sin. I perfectly understand the natural revulsion to such teachings. Once we see God allows evil to even exist, we've crossed the line to an offensive God. So many objections you hear even from Christians can sound like these atheist videos. Yet can we just take Scriptures and proclaim they are true even if we can't logically justify them? Maybe the point of Job is that God transcends logic; many atheists think even with the "behind the scenes" information, it's still just as evil and immoral of God. I think it would help to boil the problem of evil and suffering down to simply looking at it in an equation rather than using emotive pictures. If the Biblical hell exists, it's by far the most offensive thing, and far worse than even the very worst life on earth. After all, original sin teaches both the victim and the bully are both sinners, and will suffer in hell without receiving the bread of life. Scripture simply says "without revelation and regeneration you will not have a proper attitude toward God," despite the fact that we all seem like victims in so many ways. Why would God treat humans so poorly if they are so special? I don't know but does God really owe us anything? I certainly don't think he can be all-loving in the sense that some people mean, because although I think you can show that he can be fundamentally desirous of all things to prosper, if that were the only desire he had, there were never be anything imperfect allowed to exist. Heaven is really what we all are looking for, and the Bible says it only comes in one way. Christ said those on "whom the tower fell," although perhaps very unlucky in life, really had one main problem above all others—their personal sin against a holy God. How can we factor in all things everywhere and whether God acts justly or whether something happens we don't like? And really suffering is just defined by "that which I do not like." Evil, on the other hand, is the desire to steal, kill and destroy. If God's judgments are just holy retribution but not something he desired to happen, they become an "evil" qualitatively different than an evil that simply wants to get right to the destruction without any testing or care for morality. Perhaps the lesson of Job is that the paradoxical and offensive logic that God could allow something we don't like is less important than the fact that we need to find some way to be found right with God, to please him and be holy. And just as the Father taught this in the Old Testament, so did the Son teach it in the New. If I'm right with God, I can have peace in a hurricane, volcano, tornado, nuclear war, torture, or sickness.
Last edited by dizerner on Fri Sep 05, 2014 11:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Problem of Natural Disasters

Post by TheEditor » Fri Sep 05, 2014 12:21 am

All that being said... when a tsunami kills 230 thousand people... I have a strong suspicion it wasn't God's original intention.


Yes, Matt, I quite agree. But I was responding to your statement to Backwoodsman:

backwoodsman wrote:Everyone dies sometime, of something, and some common ways it happens are much more unpleasant than the average natural disaster. So I don't see a problem with God creating a system that includes them, especially considering the benefit they provide.


You replied:

No, my statement that you quoted was doubting that God would have created such a system BEFORE the arrival of death and called it 'very good.'


Regards, Brenden.
[color=#0000FF][b]"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery."[/b][/color]

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Re: The Problem of Natural Disasters

Post by backwoodsman » Fri Sep 05, 2014 11:27 am

mattrose wrote:No, my statement that you quoted was doubting that God would have created such a system BEFORE the arrival of death and called it 'very good.'
Oh, I see what you're saying. I guess it comes down to what one thinks the "arrival of death" means. For a variety of reasons, I believe it can't refer to physical death. The primary reason being, in Gen 2:17 God told Adam that, if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good & evil, he'd die the same day, but that didn't happen physically. One might say that 'day' here means a long enough period of time for them to grow old and die, which is within the scope of the literal meaning of the Hebrew word, but I don't think that fits the context here.

Then in Gen 3:22, after Adam & Eve ate of the tree, God seemed to think they'd still live forever if they ate of the tree of life, which is why He drove them out of the garden (3:23-24). Apparently their immortality depended not on a sinless state, but on access to the tree of life; it follows that, even before the fall, had they not eaten of the tree of life, they would've physically died eventually.

Getting back to natural disasters: We don't know anything about what the tree of life was or how it worked; but to have any meaning or worth at all, it would've had to somehow protect them from any death from any cause. So I don't see natural disasters as presenting a theological problem, either before or after the fall. I think they've always been a necessary part of how a "very good" earth works.
mattrose wrote:when a tsunami kills 230 thousand people... I have a strong suspicion it wasn't God's original intention.
Undoubtedly. His original intention was that man remain sinless, and have perpetual access to the tree of life. When people do things their own way instead of God's, bad things happen.

nancyer

Re: The Problem of Natural Disasters

Post by nancyer » Fri Sep 05, 2014 1:51 pm

Yes, it is true that some of the outcomes of these events are positive when it comes to our natural world. What happens to the soil, the vegitation, etc. It's the Cycle of Life. I remember explaining to my dad when I was in grade school why we can't just exterminate all of any one creature (even spiders, which I would be in total favor of, btw), because we'd be overrun by what that creature would have eaten and then we'd lose the creatures that would have eaten the creatures we eliminate. We may not understand exactly why things happen as they do but as has been said here before, we can never know God's ultimate plan and what He puts in motion to acheive it. Remember, he's also given us the brains to come up with safety measures, building codes, etc., to keep us as safe as possible in the event of these disasters. And we keep getting better at it. Look at the damage from earthquakes in the early 1900s compared to damage now.

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Re: The Problem of Natural Disasters

Post by mattrose » Fri Sep 05, 2014 5:07 pm

Here are some notes I put together for a message format:

The #1 objection to the Christian faith, as we discussed last year in our series on Apologetics, is ‘The Problem of Pain’… How can a supposedly loving God allow so much pain and suffering? And the classic Christian answer is that pain & suffering is the result our sinful use of free will… that God created us free to do good or evil… and that we have frequently chosen evil. It’s a good answer. A lot of ‘The Problem of Pain’ IS resolved when we realize that we, rather than God, are responsible for pollution, poverty, abuse, violence, war & the like. But it’s not a COMPLETE answer. At least it doesn’t seem to be. How could bad human choices produce seemingly evil things like natural disasters?

Once in a while we have a human caused avalanche for forest fire, but things like blizzards, cyclones, earthquakes, famines, floods, heat waves, hurricanes, lightning strikes, tornados, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions are essentially NATURAL disasters. And the big question is… WHY? We can understand why God might allow human beings to make bad choices… because freedom is the necessary context for love and God desires loving relationship above all else.

But why would God allow:
275k to die in a Chinese earthquake in 1920
140k to die in Japanese earthquake in 1923
Over 1 million in a Chinese flood in 1931
145k in a Chinese flood in 1935
500k in a cyclone in East Pakistan in 1970
230k in a Chinese typhoon in 1975
250k+ in a Chinese earthquake in 1976
280k in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004
160k in the Haiti earthquake of 2010

And all of those just in the past 100 years.

Today I want to cover a topic I’ve never really heard addressed on a Sunday morning, but one that most everyone wonders about whenever one of these events happens on a small or large scale.


Why are there natural disasters?
Where do they come from?

Christian tradition has considered this issue and come up with some theories. What I want to do this morning is think about these theories and try to come to some sort of understanding of why natural disaster have happened through history.

We’ll begin by thinking about each theory in its most direct form and then, towards the end of the talk, we’ll add some details and nuance toward a full-out explanation.

Theory #1
God causes natural disasters
as a way of punishing human sin

A lot of Christians subscribe to the theory that God causes disasters as a way of punishing sin. They believe that God is the cause of everything that happens. He is the one that determines all events. And ‘everything happens for a reason.’ God has a purpose for it all, both good and bad.

So why might God purposefully cause a natural disaster that wipes out thousands of people?

This theory says the answer is AS PUNISHMENT. The world is sinFULL. There are billions of people. And, it is suggested, we all NEED to be punished. What better way for God to address that need than through a natural disaster that can punish thousands of people at a time?

Of course, I’m stating it rather harshly. But isn’t that what some people really mean? Isn’t this the explanation being given when people say that “hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on the sinful city of New Orleans”?

The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, said at the time “Surely God is mad at America”. Zionists said it was b/c of our lack of support for Israel. Al Qaeda said it was God’s just judgment of wicked Americans. Farrakhan said it maybe “God's way of punishing America for its warmongering and racism.” Pat Robertson said it was God’s punishment for our abortion policies. John Haggee said it was sent by God in response to a Gay Pride parade a few days before the storm.

My point being… real people, even popular Christian spokesmen and leaders, believe that God causes (at least some) natural disasters as a way of punishing human sin.

Now, if that answer were completely satisfying, there wouldn’t be other theories. But many have found it to be a very wrong-headed explanation. It seems to paint God as an incredibly violent, wrathful God of vengeance. It paints God very different from the way God revealed Himself… in Jesus Christ.

Theory #2
God causes natural disasters
as a way of waking people up

Another theory about disasters also sees God as being very active, but rather than viewing God as doing so out of anger and wrath, they see God as doing it as a last ditch effort to get our attention.

In this view, we NEED to re-connect with God. The Father tries to get the wake up, spiritually, in gentle ways like through blessing, conscience, etc. But we don’t listen… so He has to become more severe. And disasters are 1 of his ways.
And it has often been pointed that this system works. 9/11 wasn’t a natural disaster, but it was a national disaster. And most would agree that after the events of that day people did pay more attention to God… at least for a little while.

Certainly disasters do sometimes wake us up from our spiritual slumber and cause us to think about God, the meaning of life, and helping people instead of the latest gadgets, tv shows, and how annoying people are…

BUT it seems God could just as easily get people’s attention by doing miracles, speaking audibly, or writing a message in the clouds. Aren’t there more loving ways to get people’s attention?

Theory #3
God causes natural disasters
as a way to build human character

A final theory I want to look at suggests that God actively causes disasters b/c they are a powerful means to building human character. In this view, we NEED to grow up. And as the saying goes, “NO-PAIN, NO-GAIN.” Disasters are a necessary environment to build our character.
In the midst of disasters, hero’s emerge as first-responders and rescue-workers courageously save lives. Others, against, all odds, are able to stay alive until help comes. And, nearly all involved, draw closer to each other through the pain and agony that disasters bring.

Sometimes it takes a family tragedy to bring a family back together. So couldn’t that also apply to a larger scale? Could disasters be God’s best way to bring humanity together for good?

But this theory puts all the focus on the survivors! What about the victims of each natural disaster, sometimes numbers in the hundreds of thousands? Do they grow through the disaster… or do they just die? And what about those who are so devastated by their losses that they lose their faith and turn away from God?

Truth be told, there are always some stories of people’s positive character shining through in the midst of disaster… but there are also countless stories of people whose character weakens under the weight of tragedy. It seems God would be better off disciplining people individually to mature them. Why such massive destruction?
Now, at this point, you might be thinking that you don’t like any of these theories. They all sound too harsh. They all make God the direct cause of natural disasters.

I’d agree.

I follow a long line of theologians who have softened each these theories by switching the word ‘cause’ to the word ‘allows’

God doesn’t CAUSE natural disasters to punish sin, but God ALLOWS them, in part, because they do punish sin.

God doesn’t CAUSE natural disasters to wake people up, but God ALLOWS them, in part, because they do wake people up.

God doesn’t CAUSE natural disasters to develop people’s character, but God ALLOWS the, in part, because they do develop character.

God allows natural disasters because through them sin is punished, people wake up, and character is developed…

But it’s too easy to just change the words around. It does sound SLIGHTLY better to say God ALLOWS bad stuff to happen than to say God CAUSES bad things to happen.

But we need to do more than just change to words to make it sound better. There has to be substance behind the word change to make the change substantial.

And I think that we can find that substance by asking some key questions. I want to ask 3 key questions. The answers to these questions will serve as a tentative solution to the problem of natural disasters.

First, to whom does God make this ALLOWance? Who is it that God ALLOWS to cause a natural disaster

Second, WHY would God allow this being to cause natural disasters?

Third, is this solution to the problem of natural disasters consistent with Scripture?


#1 WHO is allowed to cause natural disasters

I want to suggest that Satan and his angels are the cause of many natural disasters in our world. This is, of course, not a popular suggestion in the western world where we generally don’t believe in the existence of evil spiritual beings.

But I do believe in the devil and demons. I believe that they are powerful creatures who have chosen to rebel against God. I believe they are more powerful than people.

And if people can wreak havoc on this planet with their hands and swords and guns and bombs… why is it so far-fetched to believe that powerful spiritual beings could wreak-havoc with rocks, water, wind & fire? What is so absurd about the idea that evil spiritual beings can negatively impact the natural order?

I say that SATAN should be our first guess as to why a natural disaster occurred. I’m not saying that he’s behind EVERY natural disaster. It may be that some are caused by God. It may be that some are caused by the earth trying to find equilibrium from after earlier disasters. It may be even be that there’s an element of random chance build into reality. But Satan should be our prime suspect.
#2 WHY is Satan allowed to do this?

I want to suggest, secondly, that Satan is allowed or given-permission by God to do these things for 2 main reasons.

First, I believe that God made powerful creatures called angels and granted them free will. Free will is a risky, but beautiful gift. Gifts cannot be, rightfully, revoked.

Satan used his gift of free will sinfully. He used it to rebel against God. And God honors his original gift. He doesn’t retract it. Satan, it seems, could have been a powerful force for good in the universe or a powerful force for bad in the universe. He’s chosen the latter.

I suggest that it would be wrong of God to retract a gift once given. The gift had its limits (Satan isn’t allowed to do whatever he wants with the gift), but it is a gift that isn’t retracted. God took a risk with many angels. It didn’t pay off in some of them. And God is willing to work with the consequences.

And that leads to my second reason. We’ve already seen some of the good that God can bring out of terrible tragedies. In the theories we heard about earlier, we saw that God can accomplish things like punishing sin, waking us up, and maturing us in the midst of disaster.

So it’s not that God PREFERS to use natural disasters to accomplish these purposes. It’s that God is ABLE to accomplish these purposes through natural disaster.

God wouldn’t have taken the original risk of creating free creatures if God hadn’t known that divine purposes could still be accomplished in spite of the bad choices of angelic and human creatures.

In sum, God allows powerful evil creatures to bring about natural disasters because they have been granted a certain amount of freedom and because through them sin is punished, people wake up, and character is developed.




#3 Is it Biblical?

Of course, we need to ask the question of whether any of my suggestions are supported in Scripture! I have no desire to offer answers that aren’t biblically based.

Does the Bible support my suggestion that Satan is a powerful being with the ability to impact the natural world?

I think it clearly does. In the Bible, Satan was able to speak through a serpent. He was able to send a fireball from the sky onto Job’s servants and sheep and create a mighty wind collapsed a building onto his children. From a boat, Jesus rebuked a powerful storm using the same Greek word he used to rebuke demons.

Does the Bible support my suggestion that God honors the gift of free will and is able to continue to accomplish divine purposes even through the terrible tragedies created beings bring about?

Once again, yes. The Biblical narrative is all about God’s patience with people as they make bad choices and God’s work to keeping working.
Through the sins of Adam & Eve, Abraham & Sarah, Sodom & Gomorrah, Moses & Aaron, Egyptians & Philistines, Saul & David, Assyria & Babylon, Peter & Paul, and on and on, God has not revoked the gift of freedom. God stands by the risk that God took.

What’s more, God finds creative ways to work in the midst of the tragedies brought about by rebellious creatures. God is able bring good out of a situation where a bunch of guys sold their own brother into slavery, to use exile to finally get the attention of Israel, and to use a Roman cross to offer salvation to the world.

God, it seems, is willing and able to work through the bad choices of angels and people and the consequences those choices bring. The price of NOT ALLOWING those choices is considered to be too great… for it would come at the cost of the possibility of love.

In sum, it is my position that whenever a natural disaster strikes this planet, we do best to assume that it was brought about b/c there is a powerful and wicked being who the bible says purposes to bring death and destruction to this planet.
I would further suggest that even when a biblical passage states “God” as the cause of a natural disaster, it is more likely to be referring to him as the one who ALLOWS Satan to produce the disaster.

Now I want to admit… If you’ve followed my argument and accepted my suggestions up to this point, you might feel discouraged. It’s not fun to think about the idea that there is a powerful evil force roaming the earth and bringing about disaster.

So I want to close with 1 more insight from Scripture. Satan’s authority over the world will not last forever. God honors the amount of free will that God grants to each being, but God has not granted unlimited freedom to Satan.

Without revoking Satan’s freedom to make choices, God retained the right to control consequences. The consequence for Satan is that he’ll one day be locked-up for good. And there will be a new earth without so called ‘natura’ disasters. An earth without pain and suffering. An earth filled with the glory and goodness of God.

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