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God and natural disasters

Of all the types of suffering we see in the world, sometimes the most difficult to comprehend is the tragedy of natural disasters. With the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, we are once again reminded that nature has the power to unleash unimaginable destruction, causing loss of life and suffering on a scale that’s difficult to comprehend.

You can’t help but feel a sense of helplessness when such disasters occur. Because their origin comes from this planet we call home, we all feel the sting when the earth convulses. And we wonder: Can we trust this life-giving sphere that is usually so good to us? It all seems rather capricious, especially when those who are least able to handle the terrestrial smack of earthquakes, typhoons, and floods are often hit the hardest.

How do we deal with this kind of suffering? What are our options? We can believe that nature has run amok and out of God’s control. Or we can believe that nature is all there is, with no God to care or wield any authoritative restraint. Those are the options of people who have given up on God. They aren’t very comforting, are they? If nature is the beginning and the end of all things, and we are merely pawns in a mindless game of chance and natural selection (it’s survival of the fittest, you know), then there is no need to wonder why we suffer, because there is no explanation.

People who still hold out for a belief in some kind of God—and most of the world operates this way—look beyond nature for answers. In this realm of belief, there are two views. The first is that God is using nature to inflict punishment on His wayward created beings. He did it once—remember the Great Flood?—and he can do it again. Ah, but there’s the rainbow, God’s promise to humankind that he will never inflict such worldwide harm again:

“I will never again curse the earth, destroying all living things, even though people’s thoughts and actions are bent toward evil from childhood. As long as the earth remains, there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night” (Genesis 8:21,22).

We must look elsewhere for some kind of explanation, though none can be found to satisfy everyone. Perhaps a partial answer is found in the New Testament. In his letter to the Roman church in the first century, the apostle Paul writes:

All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Romans 8:21,22).

Even creation is under the weight of sin and suffering, brought into this world by rebellious acts of God’s human creation. It isn’t that God has lost control; he is merely allowing His creation to operate in the physical world he made for us, functioning superbly and incredibly 99.9 percent of the time, but occasionally groaning under the contractions that will someday result in a new heaven and a new earth.

Meanwhile, we must also groan with compassion for those affected by earth’s sometimes unexplained behavior. If we are to find meaning in any of this, we must find it in the meaning and the help we can give to those who suffer.

Adapted from
God Is in the Small Stuff for Tough Times by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz


Hi Stan- A timely post. Thank you. Awhile back I read a relevant article found here: that speaks to the conflict of natural disasters and God's role in them. Here's a quote from the article I found interesting: "In a sense all death is the judgment of God because the soul that sins, it will die. All of death is really a judgment of God. What happens in natural disasters happens every day throughout the world. Tens of thousands of people die – often times in very drastic situations. The reason that we hear about natural disasters is because so many people die all at the same time. It is an intense occasion of what really is happening all the time. But are they judgments of God? Yes in the sense that all death is the judgment of God, and in the sense that the earth is cursed. But what we need to understand about these judgments is that the righteous die along with the wicked. Some people who knew Christ as Savior died in Haiti and in Katrina. We must be very clear that natural disasters do not distinguish between the righteous and those who do not know God. Secondly, it’s not possible for us—we’re in no position—to look at one area of the world and say the reason it gets a natural disaster is because it is more wicked than some other area. For example, we’re not able to say that New Orleans is a more evil city than Las Vegas. That’s not within our ability to determine. It’s not for us to judge one area from another." This article comes to the same conclusion as you and the same one I am holding onto today. We must comfort the suffering when and where we are able. I don't typically use the comment space to refer back to my own post, but to add to what I mean by comforting the suffering, check out

Carrie, great links, both of them. The response on the Billy Graham blog is very interesting, and I remember your blog from a year ago. It was one of the most popular blogs you have ever written. Thanks!

As I understand Genesis 3, birth pangs are themselves supposed to be part of God's punishment for Eve's disobedience. But the such retributivist explanations are strange. It reminds one of certain grade school teachers who would punish the whole class for one kid's misbehavior. Or, worse, it reminds one of a tyrant who might destroy some random village simply because someone or other has tried to poison his food.

So how is the birth pangs analogy supposed to offer us even a "partial answer"? Is the idea simply to forget what is apparently the full biblical understanding of birth pangs and to instead just let the image remind us that someday our joy will eclipse such earthly travails (as in John 16:21)? That runs the danger of trivializing natural disasters without doing anything to actually explain them.

Is this catastrophic event created by God? For me it is not it just that it natural disaster occur because of what people did to the nature. - JustFab

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.