Why Does God Allow Natural Evils?

The cover of the July 12, 1968, edition of Life magazine showed a picture of a young boy who was starving to death as the result of a humanitarian crisis in Biafra. This magazine reached the hands of a young Steve Jobs, who would later create the Apple empire responsible for iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. Jobs, whose parents were attempting to raise him with Christian roots, was horrified. When his pastor told him that God was aware of the evils taking place in Biafra, Jobs decided that he didn’t want anything to do with a God who could allow such horrendous evil to go on.[1]

Fast forward nearly 50 years until the present: Steve Jobs is dead, but evil remains. In the past few days, the world has watched in nervous anticipation as parents pray for the lives of their sons trapped in a cave in Thailand. In the western hemisphere, the American state of California is experiencing nearly uncontrollable wildfires that have created a state of emergency. Jumping across the Atlantic to the UK, two English citizens are suffering from exposure to a Soviet-era nerve agent. Finally, the US government is currently engaging in high-stakes negotiations to keep North Korea from developing nuclear missiles that could leave the world’s population in danger of nuclear attack. Though the sufferers are in a constant state of flux, evil is one of the great constants of life on earth.

Why does God allow so much evil in the world? Why did God allow those innocent boys to enter the cave in Thailand? Why does God allow people to starve to death? Why would God give us the resources to produce weapons of mass destruction? These questions, known collectively as the Problem of Evil, are widely regarded as the strongest objections to the Christian faith. The reason this problem is so thorny is that it arises from the Christian understanding of God. Christianity teaches that God loves all of his creation and that God desires the best for human beings who are all fashioned in his image; yet, the world doesn’t seem to line up with the congenial picture painted by Christian theology. In all honesty, the natural world can be downright hostile to human flourishing. In fact, human beings, with our love of war, propensity toward crime, and apathy toward crises the world over, can at times be hostile to human flourishing.

So, why does God allow evil? Well, that question is much larger than a single blog post could ever attempt to answer! However, we can consider a few preliminary issues such as the different types of evil. First, there are moral evils. The Holocaust is the quintessential moral evil. The common denominator of moral evils is the human actor. Crime and war, for example, are moral evils; for, they are initiated and carried out by human actors. Second, there are natural evils. The wildfires in California and the rising flood waters in Thailand are both natural evils. The common denominator of natural evils is that these evils are not caused by human actors. These evils are a result of natural forces. I will ignore the moral evils with the hopes of returning to them later.

Why does God allow natural evils? To be perfectly honest, we don’t know. After all, for all we know, God has a remarkably good reason for allowing these evil events. It’s possible that natural evils do actually work out for the good in the end; we simply do not know. This, however, should not bother a Christian too much. After all, if God has a good reason for allowing an evil event to take place, why assume that human beings in general or Christians, in particular, would be the first (or last) ones to know about it?[2]

Instead of positing a hypothetical answer, perhaps the best way to address the problems of natural evils is to point towards God’s character as revealed in scripture. Given Christian theology, if the Christian God exists, we are well within our rights to assume that God probably has a good purpose in mind. The flood that eradicated Pharaoh’s army was a natural evil that probably caused great lament in Egypt; however, God used the flood to protect the Israelites who eventually produced the Messiah. Thus, in the grand scheme of things, the flood, though horrendous when it occurred, contributed to a greater good. Given what we know of God, it’s possibly the same for other natural evils.

While I don’t know why God allows natural evils, there are a few possible reasons. Before you read these, however, remember that this is not the kind of information that you’d use in a counseling session; this is speculation that is detached from present sufferings. If someone in your life has lost something, they need a friend. If you’re sitting safely in your home wondering why God allows evils, then these options are something worth considering.

First, God could allow natural evils to take place so that we would be reminded of our own frailty.[3] While we have a propensity to think of ourselves as stronger and wiser than we actually are, natural evils have a propensity to bring us to our knees by reminding us that we aren’t nearly as tough as we would like to be. Second, natural evils provide the opportunity for moral growth.[4] When natural evils occur, they usually necessitate some form of response from relief organization such as the Red Cross or the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief organization. The volunteers who work through these organization undoubtedly grow in character through volunteering to help those affected. Third, natural disasters can help those affected or threatened to reevaluate their priorities. We all have a tendency to place inordinate amounts of value on the wrong things in life. When a storm threatens our lives, we are reminded that some things, such as family, are more important than what we drive, our bank accounts, and the clothes we wear. Perhaps natural evils serve as a sort of alarm clock that reminds us to focus on the important things in life.

In the end, we really don’t know why God allows natural evils to occur. However, we know God’s character. We know that God is good and that he knows everything. In addition, we know that God has the power to work everything towards his goals. Thus, when we look at a given evil event, we may be ignorant as to why this event took place; however, we can trust the God who allowed this event to take place. In the end, this ignorance says much more about us than it does about God.

Notes & Sources

[1] Hemant Mehta, “When Steve Jobs Left His Faith,” Patheos, October 24, 2011, accessed August 29, 2017, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/10/24/when-steve-jobs-left-his-faith/.

[2] Alvin Platinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 10.

[3] John Hick, “An Irenaean Theodicy,” in Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 45-47.

[4] Ibid.

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