Today’s challenge is, “Why does God allow natural disasters to occur?” This is a common question that many have stumbled over. The challenge is a version of the problem of evil, which we have covered at some length. Like the problem of evil, know your audience and don’t give an academic answer when someone is in pain. One of our common responses to evil and suffering in the world is that humans are the problem. If we want to have free will, and the ability to love, we must also be able to do otherwise. “But what about natural disasters?” they may ask. “These are not caused by people. Our choice plays no part in the evil and suffering caused by an earthquake or a tsunami. How could God allow innocent people to be killed like this?” Here are three things to respond with.

1. Free Will is Still Important

First, free will is still a factor. It is true that humans can neither cause nor stop an earthquake. But we can influence where we build our communities, how well built our homes are, and how well equipped we are to deal with the aftermath. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti was massive, but many places have been hit by exponentially larger earthquakes and not suffered as much. Socio-economic factors influenced how ill-prepared they were to handle such an incident, leading to a bigger disaster than it needed to be.

2. Is Weather Evil?

Second, these kinds of weather phenomena are not inherently evil. The plate tectonics that cause earthquakes are essential for this planet to be habitable. There is no evil in an earthquake. When a human being is killed by it, that is tragic, but there was no malice or ill-will behind the weather. Weather can cause suffering, but it cannot itself be evil.

3. God Knows the Bigger Picture

Third, and more directly, why would God let this happen? Doesn’t God want to avoid needless pain and death? Perhaps, but that is making a big assumption. The fact is, we are finite beings caught up in the present moment. We do not know how one seemingly insignificant detail will change the world for years to come. If God truly is an eternal being who sees the full picture, we have no reason to assume that anything he does or permits is needless. We may not always see it, but we have no right to claim it does not exist. Unless the skeptic can show that God can have no justification for allowing suffering, this argument holds little weight.

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