Rob Buckingham's Blog

God, Suffering and Natural Disasters

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The most frequently asked question about the Christian faith goes something like this: “If God is real why do we see so much suffering and evil in the world?”  It’s a fair question and one that deserves some good answers.  I mean if God is really that powerful, really sovereign, really in control then why doesn’t He do something about the pain and suffering of people?

It needs to be realised that people cause the vast majority of suffering on planet Earth.  God took a risk and gave humans freewill.  We have the ability to make choices.  Some people choose well, others don’t.  The bad choices some people make invariably impact on others causing pain and suffering.

Ultimately God is sovereign and He is moving history in the right direction.  His plan will eventually be fulfilled and His goodness will cover the earth.  But in the meantime we are not exempt from the pain that is inflicted when people do the wrong thing or good people do nothing.  When it comes to the day-to-day happenings in this world it should be noted, “God is in charge but not in control.”  In fact He has delegated the control of this world to people.

Right at the beginning of time He gave the responsibility of governing and controlling creation to human beings (Genesis 1:28).  So are we doing a good job?  Sometimes “yes” and sometimes “no.”  For example, Bono writes, “Extreme poverty has been cut in half in the last 20 years, and the facts show that we can get it to virtually zero within a generation – but only if we act.”  That’s right, good people taking charge can end poverty in the next few decades.  So instead of blaming God for suffering what are YOU doing to make a difference?  The same can be said about other major issues of caring for the earth and its people: reducing pollution, caring for the environment, conservation, praying and work for peace and justice amongst people and nations, economic justice and equality between rich and poor, male and female; racial equality for people of marginalised races; protection for refugees and asylum seekers and so on.

These are not merely political issues, they are deeply important matters that should concern all of us who pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven – for those of us who want to see things continue to improve on this planet as they have done for centuries.  That’s right, the world is actually becoming a better place, and if you don’t believe me then read history!

All of the above still doesn’t account for the suffering that is NOT caused by people.  For example, what about natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, bush fires, volcanoes, tsunamis, avalanches and extreme weather events?  While I don’t pretend to have all the answers to these complex scientific occurrences, there’s one thing I’d like to put forward about such phenomena, that is, “every blessing has a shadow side”.  What I mean by that is the very things we enjoy on this planet also have the ability to harm us.

I love trees.  I appreciate their colour against a blue sky; I love their shade on warm days; and I breathe the oxygen they create.  Trees play a role in the formation of rain and wind.  Strong winds can cause large tree limbs to break.  Sometimes these fall on people and cause injury and death.

Earthquakes are caused when tectonic plates move.  If the earth were solid, rather than being made up of plates that move, life, as we know it could never have survived.  Earthquakes and volcanoes have been responsible for creating countries (such as Japan) and the stunning mountain ranges we enjoy.  People can ski on many of these mountains.  Sometimes avalanches happen causing injury and death.  Some people love climbing mountains.  Occasionally they die trying.

Volcanoes occur when magma erupts through a weakness in the earth’s crust (invariably as a result of an earthquake).  Volcanoes wouldn’t happen if the earth were cooler.  But if this were the case the cooling would remove the magnetic shield around earth that protects the planet from cosmic radiation.  The result would be out of control global warming, an increase in solar rays that are believed to cause cancer, and extensive solar winds that could dry out rivers, lakes and seas.  There goes your fishing, boating and surfing.

Floods cause havoc.  They destroy homes, livestock and people’s lives. They also create an explosion of new plant and animal life, rejuvenate river systems, fill dams to give us an abundant supply of fresh water, give agricultural land a complete soaking to prepare it for bumper crops, recharge groundwater systems, fill wetlands and increase fish production because of nutrients supplied by the land during flooding.  Likewise bushfires, as devastating as they are to human and animal life, are also necessary for the rejuvenation of vegetation.  In fact some plants actually need heat and smoke to release their seeds.

The gravity that keeps us on the planet also enables fatal falls; the fire that warms also burns; the water in which we swim can also drown.

Tragedies happen and the suffering of people should never be downplayed.  These are opportunities for humanity to come together, to help one another, to be our best selves.  A wonderful example of this was the devastating 2004 Asian Tsunami that claimed up to 280,000 lives.  It prompted a worldwide humanitarian response in which a number of countries gave more than $18 billion in aid and helped in rebuilding the worst effected nations.

Finally, if God were to remove all evil from the world where would He start and finish?  Should He just get rid of the big-ticket bad guys like Isis and Al-Qaida?  Or should he also deal with people who speed and cause accidents?  Have you ever exceeded the speed limit?  Should He get rid of you?

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