Reports on the devastation and deaths caused by such natural disasters as earthquakes, floods, forest fires, and hurricanes are regular features of the news. A common reaction to them is, “Why did God it happen?” — a question which suggests that if God is as loving and powerful as the Bible pictures Him to be He would prevent or at least limit the effect of such disasters.
In this post I’ll consider how Randy Alcorn answers the question in his booklet If God Is Good: Why Do We Hurt? (Multnomah Books, 2010), which the church Life group that my wife and I are part of will be using this fall to study the problem of evil. The booklet considers the question in a section called “What Causes Natural Disasters?” (pages 22-24), which is drawn from Chapter 10, “Natural Disasters: Creation Under the Curse of Human Evil,” of Alcorn’s book If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Multnomah Books, 2009).
I plan to introduce the Life group study of the question by reading the introduction to the chapter on it in the book (page 84) and then to consider the section in the booklet in two parts, “God’s and People’s Roles in Natural Disasters” and “Transformations Resulting from Tragedies.”
God’s and People’s Roles in Natural Disasters
In my July 26 post, “How Evil and Suffering Are Related,” I noted that Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden resulted in suffering by them (and us) and a curse on the natural world. God announced these when he spoke to Adam and Eve on meeting with them after they ate of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:16-19). Alcorn observes that the curse on the natural world will remain until the day when “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:20-21; quoted on page 22 of the booklet). The passage’s context identifies that day as when God’s people are glorified (Romans 8:18-23). Note that all quotations in this post are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Alcorn goes on to observe that our sinful actions and misuse of land sometimes make things worse (booklet, page 23). When the Life group considers what he says about this in the booklet, I may read what he says about it on page 85 of his book.
I also plan to refer to some aspects of the topic that Alcorn considers in his book but doesn’t mention in the booklet. In referring to them, I may read from what Alcorn says about them on pages 86-89 of the book.
The first is that God is sovereign over all nature. For example, Jesus said of Him, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Thus, although nature may ordinarily follow natural laws and Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), God is over them.
The second is that although God sometimes uses natural disasters to punish evil (Alcock gives several examples on pages 86-87 of the book), usually they are general results of the curse on the natural world and not linked to the sins of those who suffer from them. For example, Jesus said, “Those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you” (Luke 13:4-5a).
The third is that Satan may sometimes bring about natural disasters. For example, Job 1:13-19 indicates that he was behind the fire from heaven and great wind that brought destruction to Job’s family and livestock. However the preceding verses (Job 1:6-12) bring out that Satan was allowed to do these things only with God’s permission, showing that God remained sovereign.
The fourth is that disasters can affect the blameless. Again, this is illustrated by what happened to Job, whom the Bible describes as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1).
Transformations Resulting from Natural Disasters
Next Alcorn observes that transformations may occur in the aftermath of natural disasters–initiating self-examination, bringing out the best in people, and leading to spiritual examination (booklet, page 24). When the Life group considers what he says about this in the booklet, I may read from what he says about it in the book (pages 89-90).
Alcorn concludes by observing that a world without personal tragedies and natural disasters would produce no heroes and by encouraging readers to help those affected by them (booklet, page 24). When the Life group considers what he says about this in the booklet, I may read from what he says about it in the book (page 91).
Life Group Questions
Since our Life group won’t consider this section of Alcorn’s booklet until at least a few weeks from now, the following questions are just tentative ones. In composing them I obtained ideas from Alcorn’s If God Is Good Study Guide (Multnomah Books, 2010).
After I read the introduction to Chapter 10 of the book, we’ll discuss the question with which the first paragraph on page 22 of the booklet ends.
After considering what I’ve described above in “God’s and People’s Roles in Natural Disasters,” we’ll discuss what causes natural disasters, emphasizing the roles of God and people.
After considering what I’ve described above in “Transformations Resulting from Natural Disasters,” we’ll discuss how we should respond to natural disasters.
In my next post I’ll present and comment briefly on the most common explanations given for evil and suffering and argue for the Biblical explanation, guided by the section “What Common Explanations Are Given for Evil and Suffering?” in Randy Alcorn’s “If God Is Good: Why Do We Hurt?” booklet.