Monday, February 27, 2023

The Theology of Natural Disasters

Our six a.m. men's Bible study got a little heady this morning.  We're working through an apologetics study, designed more to get us in the mindset of continuing conversations and asking questions.  To that degree, we've started raising questions that can be naturally posed by those that are seeking a deeper understanding of the faith or by those that will challenge different aspects of the faith.   Today we hit on a variation of the questions regarding the goodness of God.

"Why does God allow natural disasters?"

The question stemmed from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.  And while that formed the central theme, the questions got deeper and more complex.

"Are they really natural or caused disasters?  Are they natural/caused forces that existed before the fall or are they a result of sin?  Are they a form of judgment, natural/caused expressions of creation, or both?"

Not easy to discus when you are just getting your caffeine fix.  But it created an interesting discussion nonetheless.

We noted there has to be a natural component to the disaster.  The earth in and of itself is a creation and natural disasters can have specific functions in regulating the earth as creation.  As a living creation.  Look at the wildfires in our west, which are often responsible for clearing out old growth and making way for new growth.  Likewise, earthquakes coming from the result of tectonic plates rubbing against or smashing into each other.  This can result in new ground or from new ground, quite literally.

From there, we have identified a purpose for these disasters.  Whether they existed prior to the fall is another and much harder question.  If everything did not die, if death did not exist before the fall, it is unlikely these did as well, as often their purpose is to clear out the old and make way for the new.  Either way, in our current environment they can have some net positive effect, potentially. 

But even phrasing it like that, raises another question - positive in relation to what?  

Why is an event a disaster? Is it only from a "human" perspective regarding the loss of human life or property damage?

Put another way, if a hurricane strikes and devastates a deserted island, was there any disaster?

We focus on the human because this is the context is raised.  Part of the "why would God allow such loss" cry.  And in that frame of mind, we can rightly call them disasters, for they can have a great impact on human life and existence.  They can be great tragedies.  And it can lead us to wonder why.  To wonder if it is judgment, fate, or chance.  

I am greatly skeptical of anyone who can definitely state that a specific natural disaster is God's judgment. The one's we have described in the Bible all seem to have a supernatural component to them.  There is a prior proclamation of them as coming, a warning of destruction and then the supernatural event.  To ascribe God's judgment to an event afterward is stretching for a reason, in my opinion.

Such attribution often comes from those who deem that every event is one that God is controlling or causing.  That his sovereignty requires that He is controlling everything that occurs, as He is all powerful. But this does not have to be the case for Him to be all powerful.  There is a difference in having power and exercising it.  It's often in the restraint in using power that we see the greatest display.  After all, this is the idea of mercy and grace.

But if God does not cause the disaster, then we have the question of why God allows them to occur.  Why God does not spare the people?  The deaths, the tragedies, the loss.  Why does God not supernaturally intervene?

This circles back to the larger question of suffering that we have been exploring.  And there are a multitude of reasons that suffering occurs.  Sometimes it is the result of the consequences of our actions, of our sins.  If we keep building houses in a flood plain, it is likely they will flood and often.  Sometimes suffering is the result of other people's actions, of their evil.  Other times, it's to teach us a lesson, for some lessons we learn the hard way.  Or it is to prepare us for something that is coming ahead.

There are multitude of reasons why suffering occurs, even with an all-good God.  That doesn't change his status.  For what we see in the tragedies are how God can take the absolute worst this world has to offer and make something beautiful.  

We didn't come to any final answers this morning.  That's not the point.  It's to think, it's to discuss, it's to listen.  To ask questions and to keep the discussion going.

I just pray I'm more awake next Monday.

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