Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why does God permit natural disasters?

On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the nation of Haiti. As of this writing, the confirmed death toll is over 100,000 and may approach 200,000 when the debris is cleared. It is encouraging to see money and aid pouring in from many nations, Christian organizations, and others. George Clooney and many famous celebrities have used their status and money to assist. A telethon held January 22nd raised more than $57 million and counting. Even Tiger Woods sent a $3 million check from an undisclosed location and Brangelina, in the midst of another alleged breakup, have donated $1 million.

Months from now, when the headlines have subsided, it will be important to not forget about Haiti. A number of excellent Christian relief organizations have been working in this impoverished nation for many years, including Samaritan’s Purse. Assistance will be needed to rebuild Haiti, where 80% of the population lived below the poverty line [1] and the average annual salary was around $450 before the disaster [2]. Most Americans spend more for a television. A number of Haitians work six month stints at resorts in Punta Cana, which is about 200 miles on the other side of the island. And, even those wages would cause North Americans to turn up their noses.

So, why did God let this happen? Tragedies raise questions about God, which appear to leave three possibilities: God does not exist, He is not good, or He is not all powerful. If these were true, He would have protected the victims, right? First, the response by Christians is not to distribute trite answers, it is to help those in need (James 2:14-16) and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). For those who truly are searching for an answer, let’s ask how God would act. He works through people, His physical hands and feet in this world (1 Corinthians 12:27 and Romans 12:4-5) designed to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus commanded us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give drink to the thirsty (Matthew 25:35-36). Tragedy is a call for God’s people to step up and demonstrate His love.

Next, God has given humans the intellectual capability to prevent much of the human suffering and devastation from natural disasters. For example, tornado warning systems have been designed to advise nearby residents to find safe shelter. Building codes in earthquake zones such as Japan and San Francisco require that new structures are constructed to resist earthquake damage. We daily use many devices that protect from serious harm or death: seat belts, carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, side air bags, and many others. While these are no comfort to those who have lost loved ones, they demonstrate that humans have the capability to develop technology to greatly reduce harm from accidents and natural disasters. Rather than saving us supernaturally, in many ways, God has placed this ability in our hands. James Roberts, research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for International Trade and Economics, served in the State Department for 25 years and worked at the embassy in Haiti. He stated corruption has been a major problem in that nation, accounting for the lack of economic development and even contributing to inferior building designs through lack of standards enforcement or cheating by contractors [3]. Humans have the ability to implement changes making Haiti safer.

Earthquakes are a function of geological forces that are necessary for life on Earth. As a rotating wire coil inside a set of magnets generates an electrical current, Earth’s rotating liquid iron core produces the magnetosphere which protects our atmosphere from solar wind particles and low energy cosmic radiation harmful to life. The rotating core causes movement of the crustal plates, which maintain the carbon cycle necessary to life. Plate tectonics are also crucial to creation and continuation of land masses which would be eroded over time, turning Earth into a water world inhospitable to life, including Kevin Costner. And, this water would be frozen without the molten core which causes movement of the continents [4].

Finally, we must remember that God originally placed humans in this world in a protected status designed to live forever (Genesis 2:8 and Genesis 2:15-16). After rejecting God’s instruction, the first humans were unceremoniously ejected from Eden. Throughout history, humans have collectively wanted God out of our lives (Romans 3:11-12) and each of us has done this individually. So, to some degree, God did get out of our lives. We call on Him in times of trouble, but since the Garden of Eden, we have decided to reject His instructions, have our own way, so we get our wish. If God was punishing the Haitian citizens, we would all be in trouble (Luke 13:4-5). Each of us are now living in a fallen world and are susceptible to difficulties: Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12). None are exempt from problems (Psalm 34:19); however, we have many great promises that God will deliver us from trouble (John 16:33, Psalm 34:17). One day, He will permanently deliver all who trust Him (1 Corinthians 15:52) and the greatest tragedy would be to miss that.

[1] Central Intelligence Agency, updated 27 Nov 2009,
[2] World Vision, “Frequently asked questions about the Haiti earthquake”, accessed 24 Jan 2010,
[3] Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, interview by Craig Smith, January 23, 2010, p. A7.
[4] Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2004), 55-58.