This may be my greatest secret doubt in my Christian faith. I wrestled with this question for years, and I still do. If God is good, loves those He has created, and longs for all to be in a relationship with Him, how is it possible for a natural disaster to fit into this picture?
Acts of evil caused by people with malicious intent are horrendous, but they are also explainable. Bad people do bad things and God allows free will. Just like you might love your adult children and long for the best for them, you don’t control them. Love can never be controlling. Or similarly mistakes of stupidity (like drunk driving) or just bad judgement which cause harm are explainable as well. God allows free will, he doesn’t control people’s actions.
But natural disasters? Leaving the question of potential human interference (climate change and its causes) for other to discuss, what do natural disasters say about the character of God? Maybe we have the picture of His character wrong? Because the question implies an alternate answer…a good and loving God wouldn’t allow a natural disaster, right? After all you wouldn’t allow your child to endure that much harm. So, either God doesn’t love us because natural disasters might tell a different story or God isn’t good because natural disasters prove that point too? That’s where this question may take us.
As I’ve wrestled with this doubt for decades, I’ve landed on two responses one for my head and one for my heart.
First for my head. Scripture says that when humanity turned from God, decided to go our own way, reject our relationship with the creator of heaven and earth two things happened. We were separated from Him (like a child throwing a tantrum we ran away from home) and the ground itself was cursed.
Gen. 3:17 “Cursed is the ground…”
ALL of creation is effected by our wrongdoing. It is fluid mechanics. A splash disturbs an entire body of water. A hurtful comment to a spouse disrupts an entire family. A secret act of greed compounded can destroy an entire economy and many others are affected. Our act of original sin introduced brokenness not just into our own lives and all of humanity but into all the world; including, according to the Bible, into the ground itself.
God created the world but does not control the world. A natural disaster in pure Biblical terms is an effect of this truth, the ground is cursed because of sin. Please don’t confuse this point, natural disasters are not a punishment. God is not targeting the Caribbean with hurricanes or turning cities into rubble because of spiteful retribution. Woven into the ground itself is the separation from God that we created and many millennia later, we still see the effects.
But remember, God “so loved THE WORLD that He gave His one and only Son…” Through Jesus, the thread of destruction can be lifted and the restoration of all things has begun. God is good.
Then for my heart: If you, a loved one, or a community you deeply care about have been ravaged by an “act of God,” this question “why?” still may be hanging in the back of your heart. Mine too. Here’s a promise that we must lean into and a new question that will change our outlook.
Ps 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
When the winds are swirling, the walls are shaking and the waves are unrelenting, just leave behind the question “why?” It won’t serve you well. We can’t know all things. Take on the question “who?” instead. Who is available to help? Who is available to comfort? Who is available to save? God’s promise is that His presence is always in the middle of the mess. He is there when all is broken and needs repair. He shows up, often in the presence of His people with miracle after miracle and countless acts of love.
In the middle of a disaster, lean in to “who” rather than “why” and you will see more goodness and presence of God than you’ve ever known.