Why does God allow natural disasters?

Many people have asked the question "How can God be described as a loving God if he allows thousands of people to die as a result of so-called natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tsunamis?"

In the ever increasing 'blame culture' in which we live, it seems that when something happens we try to find fault with someone or something else. Is God to blame for allowing earthquakes? Do we blame God for allowing people to commit acts of love and kindness? Do we find fault with God for allowing his own son to die a cruel and horrible death, even though it is our only means of salvation?

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7)

Perhaps it is the scale of such an event which causes people to question the very existence of God. Is it that large scale death concentrated within such a short time span heightens our sense of injustice? Surely all these people didn't deserve to die?

This raises a number of questions:

  • If you believe in going to heaven at death, why are you aggrieved that so many people are now apparently living in paradise?
  • In what sense do people not deserve to die?
  • Why do we die?

As the book of Ecclesiastes tells us, one thing in life is certain: we die.

“The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all ... And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.” (Ecclesiastes 2:14,16)
“All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all ... that they go to the dead.” (Ecclesiastes 9:2,3)
“For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19,20)

Why do we die?

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23)

We have all committed sin, so we deserve death. Romans 6:23 tells us:

“...the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our lord.” (Romans 6:23)
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22)

Whilst both these verses point out the inevitability of death, they also allude to the hope of being made eternally alive in Christ. This hope prevents our lives from being futile. If we have no hope, what point is there in living?

In its conclusion, the book of Ecclesiastes provides us with simple instructions as to how we should lead our lives:

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

The best example of someone fearing God and keeping his commandments is the lord Jesus Christ.

“For I have not spoken of myself;but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.” (John 12:49,50)

Jesus' obedience glorified God:

“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which though gavest me to do.” (John 17:4)

By following the example of Jesus, we too can seek to glorify God:

“Herein is my father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my fathers commandments, and abide in his love. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:8,10,12-13)
“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

Jesus explains the idea of bearing much fruit in a parable recorded for us in the gospel of Luke:

“He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” (Luke 13:6-9)

In this parable the fig tree should be cut down because it doesn't bring forth any fruit. Its existence is pointless. But the dresser of the vineyard gives the fig tree a final chance to bear fruit. The parallel for us is obvious. If we do not give glory to God, we deserve to be cut down, to die after all, we aren't fulfilling our purpose. God in his grace has given us the chance to be saved by submitting to him in faith.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” (Ephesians 2:8)

Why then do we consider it unjust that many should die in a natural disaster? As we have seen, Scripture tells us that we were created for the purpose of glorifying God, a purpose that we have failed to fulfil. By human reasoning, something that does not serve its purpose, like the fig tree, should be removed and replaced. God defies this ‘logic’ in his love for us. Instead of death, he offers life.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

We must abandon our own conceptions of ‘justice’, and rightly so,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8,9)

Such questions as these only arise when we place ourselves at the centre of our view of the world. This place belongs to God - he created this world and he is at the centre of its purpose.

There is, of course, nothing new under the sun. At the beginning of Luke 13, Jesus is asked the same questions about two recent tragedies: the local Roman governor had killed several Galileans for offering sacrifices, and at Siloam a tower had collapsed, killing eighteen people. Can you hear the cries: ‘What did these people do to deserve death? Tell us, Teacher – why did they die? It’s not fair!’ What would you have said? Would you have offered comfort? Tried to appease them? Or would you have said this:

“There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

Why does God allow it to happen? Well, why not? We're going to die anyway, so what matters the method?

“The soul that sinneth, it shall die... But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die... Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? ” (Ezekiel 18:20-21,23)
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. ” (2 Peter 3:9)

Knowing that we should, and eventually will, die, we “account that the longsuffering of God is salvation” (2 Peter 3:18) and make the most of the life that he allows us in his mercy and love; that is, if we wish to live forever with him on the earth that he created as he has always intended, in his kingdom.

We should therefore turn back to God (‘repent’), reading the Bible for ourselves so that we can learn of God's commandments and bring forth fruit unto eternal life. We have a free learn to read the Bible effectively course which is designed to provide you with the skills to help with reading and understanding the Bible.

So what are our final thoughts? Why does God allow natural disasters?

“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy ... O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? ” (Romans 9:18,20)
“Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him? who will say unto him, What doest thou? ” (Job 9:12)

God gives us this choice: to live for ourselves and for pleasure for a short time, or to respond to his love and do eternally what we were created to do. Either way, we cannot expect God to intervene and extend or curtail our lives. What happens after our death is up to us.

“Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. ” (Joshua 24:14-15)
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

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