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:
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:
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.