‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’ Romans 8:22
A good friend of mine recently retired from his diplomatic post. At one time he was part of a committee for ‘the prevention of natural disasters’. I teased him about this apparent god-complex but he explained that the work of the committee was to find ways of preventing natural calamities, such as earthquakes and so on, from becoming disasters. However, as we have recently seen it is really not possible to prevent an earthquake that measures nine on the Richter scale from being disastrous.
Why do natural disasters occur? In the case of the Great Flood it was God who caused the world-wide disaster, but is He the cause of all natural calamities? Let’s take earthquakes as an example. Ezekiel 38:19, Amos 1:1 and Zechariah 14:5 all seem to speak of the same earthquake that God inflicted as a punishment upon Israel. Other than that though there are no further direct references to divinely initiated earthquakes. If we see one spotted dog we cannot claim that all dogs are spotted. Even if we saw only spotted dogs for a year we could at best claim that many dogs are spotted. So, we cannot claim on the basis of one that God is the initiator of all earthquakes.
Some folk do believe that God is the cause, either directly or indirectly, of all natural disasters but they reason not from the historic biblical evidence but from a deterministic theological model. They hold that God predetermines all things and so He must be the instigator of all natural disasters as well. I really don’t want to get started down this theological path because I feel strongly that such a view contradicts a lot of the biblical witness and besmirches the character of God, ultimately making Him the author of sin!
So if God is not the cause of the vast majority of natural disasters what is?
When God made the earth He saw that it was very good (Genesis 1:31) and Job records that when God made the Earth ‘the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy’ (Job 38:7). The world that God made was a good place, without destruction and death. But then something happened that changed everything.
Humankind, the image-children of God, rebelled and chose to be like God. As a result sin entered the created realm and triggered a cycle of death that modern scientists have identified in part as the second law of thermodynamics. Instead of bearing only good harvests the earth started to produce thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18) and violence and death became a part of the cycle of life. Romans 8:20-22 describes how ‘the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’
Why do natural disasters occur? They occur because we live in a sin-sick world where the very fabric of creation is deeply flawed and corrupted from its original perfection and goodness. Yet despite this God is good and He will be with His faithful children even through the most difficult occurrences. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me’. (Psalm 23:4). That is so good to know!