In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst storms to ever be recorded, at least 10,000 people have been reported dead. Surely, it is appropriate for us to ask how could God have allowed this calamity to happen. The following is an attempt to briefly answer this question, but as a caveat I want to be clear that our response ought not be merely intellectual. As believers, we may be able justify our beliefs, but we also have a duty to pray for, love, and serve one another in the midst of great tragedy like this. May we be advocates of both truth and love.

The Problem

If a perfectly good and omnipotent God exists, it would follow that He must have created a world with the best attainable balance of good over evil. The problem is when we look around in our current world, we wonder if a better world could have been made.

Some people might say that it is understandable why there is moral evil, but God could have made a world with less "natural" evil.[1] Moral evil, the way I'm using it, is that evil that results from people that have the option to do otherwise. In other words, it is the result of peoples' free will to make decisions, both good and evil. Natural "evil" refers to those atrocities that occur as a result of the natural order of the universe.

'...why would He create a world in which these things occur and why doesn't He stop them when they do?'

More specifically, God has allowed the potential for and, as we've seen recently, the actual existence of natural disasters. Instances of such disasters could be thwarted by an omnipotent God who knows that impending storms, floods, or other disasters would take the lives of humans. He could "save" those in this sort of peril either by breaking into the natural realm at the moment of a disaster's occurrence or He could preemptively stop such an event at the point in which it would threaten a person's life.

To summarize, we might ask “If God is perfect, and He creates perfectly, why would He create a world in which these things occur and why doesn't He stop them when they do?” Some say that this proves that God does not exist and others say that they could never worship a God who allows these sorts of things.[2]

Natural Law Theodicy

A theodicy is a way of explaining how both God and evil can exist. One such explanation--Natural Law Theodicy--states that the existence of a natural order within the world is essential to creating a world in which morally free beings can exist. This order must be a physical order that is characterized by regularity. “Such an order is essentially independent of the rational agent in that it includes relatively enduring things behaving in regular ways.”[3]

Natural laws are necessary for the existence of moral decisions because decisions are rendered relatively obsolete if the consequences of those decisions are unknown. Moral decisions require a range of objects and actions within a field of deliberation and choice. If the world responded to those choices in any random, varied way, then the moral value of deliberation and choice would be eliminated.[4] A world in which a cause is affiliated with the same effect consistently is necessary for this reason. For example, dropping a bowling ball on someone’s foot will result in pain, not euphoria. Natural law makes this fact knowable.[5]

A world in which a cause is affiliated with the same effect consistently is necessary for this reason.

These natural laws make decisions that are morally good possible, but it also makes morally evil decisions possible. Moral good becomes possible because a person may choose to act in such a way that brings about a consequence he knows will be positive. Moral evil is possible in the same way. For instance, a person is held accountable for pulling the trigger of a gun and murdering someone because that person knows what the consequence of pulling that trigger will be.[6]

Similarly, these natural laws can explain the existence of natural evil as well. Nash explains that “The same water which sustains and refreshes can also drown; the same sun which gives light and life can parch fields and bring famine.” Natural disasters are only labeled “evil” because some complain that certain laws should be halted at a particular point so that creatures might not be affected negatively.[7] However, we need the laws-- they are good. They regulate and order our world. They are the very systems that allow for life.

The question before us is why God simply does not intervene in the instance of natural disaster. I would suggest that systematic divine intervention would destabilize a world governed by natural laws. If God intervened every time a natural disaster was to take place, then such an intervention would become predictable. Humans would never know they were in jeopardy and would therefore never realize the need to beware certain natural phenomena, such as floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. To speak of a world that is constantly being manipulated in this way by God, is to negate the rational possibility of a predictable, natural order that allows for moral decision. [8]

It is intuitive to think that systematic divine intervention would destabilize a world governed by natural law.

But why did God not create a world with different natural laws that keep natural disasters from happening? Think about all of the intricacies involved in ecosystems, storm systems, global cause and effect, and even the way the planets and moons effect each other. There is no one on earth that can comprehend all of the systems in place in the world and how they interact with and affect one another. Consider all of the minute details of these systems that allow for prosperous intelligent life, which is unique to our world as far as we know. Can we really say that a better system could be found and that God missed the mark slightly in His creation? Who can account for an alternative world? Indeed, the skeptic has not succeeded in proposing such an alternative world, nor could he.[9]

As A Reminder?

We do know that the Fall has impacted our natural systems negatively. For instance, because of sin we have seen pollution and extreme deforestation change entire ecosystems. There is no telling how much moral decisions have tweaked the pristine order that characterized the world in its newly minted state. We do know, however, that the entropy and decay, coupled with all the so-called natural evil that we experience, all serve to point to a greater need. Perhaps, God allows these events to continue as a way of providing a sobering reminder that the world is in need of redemption, and so too are we.

Is God justified in giving us reminders of this kind? Here's a few quick thoughts:

  • He gives and takes life and He alone has that prerogative. Remember God's conversation with Job?
  • The severity of sin is often underestimated. Desperate times--times in which people deny their sin and the very existence of God-- may call for extreme reminders like this.
  • The present world is temporal and fleeting. This kind of reminder of mankind's fragility may very well serve to cause people to search for help and hope. Better a natural disaster that produces Christ-followers than no natural disaster that produces apathy. The worst thing in life is not physical death, but rather spiritual death.

 

[1] Charles T. Hughes, “Theism, Natural Evil, and Superior Possible Worlds,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 31 1 (February 1992): 48.

[2] Moral evil is that evil that is bound up by the use of free will; while natural evil are those evils that are attributable to the work of natural processes.

[3] Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1988), 200.

[4] Ibid, 201.

[5] Luke Gelinas, “The Problem of Natural Evil I: General Theistic Replies,” Philosophy Compass 4 3 (2009):12.

[6] Ibid, 13.

[7] Nash, Faith, 201-202.

[8] Ibid, 202-203.

[9]Ibid, 202-203. Obviously the fact that no counterexample can be provided does not absolutely prove that one cannot ever be conceived, but it does place the onus of proof on the atheist.

 

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