Why do natural disasters happen?

With the floods in Queensland and Victoria, Cyclone Yasi, the quake in Christchurch and now the massive earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan, it has been a truly awful stretch in terms of natural disasters.

As human beings, we react with horror at the suffering of our fellow human beings. As Christians who believe in a God who is sovereign, or in control over all things, it is very difficult not to react with confusion as to what is going on. It raises the natural question of why natural disasters happen at all.

The expactation of living in a broken world

In Mark 13 Jesus reminds us that there will wars and rumours of wars, people claiming to be messiahs, earthquakes and famines in the time between his resurrection and his return. These are not the end; the end is still to come says Jesus. Natural disasters, deception and man-made calamity are part of the expectation of life this side of heaven.

But if you want to know why natural disasters happen, beyond the geological or meteorological reasons, the Apostle Paul in Romans 8 reminds us that the created world is frustrated, decaying and is groaning, like a woman about to give birth. All is not as it was in the beginning, and all is not as it should be now. When our first parents brought sin into the world, it did not only affect humanity but the creation itself.

What is God doing in natural disasters?

You may also wonder if God has sovereign power over all things, what is he doing with natural disasters? Is he responsible for them and why does he let them happen? Here the Old Testament story of Job might be helpful. Job was a righteous man, described as blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. Yet under the view of God, and at the hand of Satan, Job’s children were killed in a hurricane, his servants killed by raiding parties and Job himself was afflicted with painful sores. He says to his wife, “shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”. The text even says, in all these things Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. This is important not to miss: although natural disasters, raiders and disease were responsible for his awful situation, Job saw that behind all that was the sovereign control of God, but he also recognised that although God could direct the course of evil, he was not tainted or stained by evil.

It is difficult for us to see everything that God is doing in natural disasters. Perhaps he is restraining Satan from bringing even worse calamity upon the earth, perhaps he is bringing good that we do not get a glimpse of, perhaps he is giving a world that refuses to recognise his existence and majesty what we continually ask for-him not interrupting our lives. We can make suggestions or guesses but never really know the full picture, or see the whole situation as God sees it. This is where the book of Job ends: he realises that better than knowing all the answers is to know God, who knows everything.

What should we do in the face of natural disasters?

Ultimately, whenever tragedy strikes it is a reminder to us that we are small, our lives are like a breath, and that we need to be in right standing with our Maker. Who is, by the way, not only our Maker but also our Saviour, and who suffered so grievously when he was killed on the cross in our place though he was perfect. Natural disasters are a reminder to turn back to God while there is still time.

They also provide an opportunity for us to extend love to people we have never met, in countries we may never have visited, in whatever practical ways available to us, including financial giving.

Finally, we turn to our great God and Saviour who is our hope and strength in prayer, both for ourselves and for people suffering such great tragedy.

If you have more questions about the topic of suffering and evil it would be worth reading the Old Testament book called Job, or you can purchase a copy of the Little Black Book on Suffering & evil on Sundays.

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