Why does God allow people to suffer and die from natural disasters?
This is a question that continually pops up every time a natural disaster occurs somewhere around the world. It’s usually asked by atheists, but I even see some Christians asking it, particularly those who’ve lost loved ones in such tragedies. It’s a tough, but necessary question to ask, and every Christian should be able to answer it. The short answer is that Adam’s Original Sin introduced pain, suffering, and death into the world, and with that came the disturbance of the natural world. We also must acknowledge that although we can explain the answer in these terms, we can never fully understand why God allowed Adam to be tempted to sin in the first place, and thus why we must suffer from natural disasters and the evil deeds done by people throughout history. This is a mystery, and as Christians, we have to comfortable with the fact that there are such mysteries, and that we can’t have perfect answers to every question. In fact, we should rejoice about this, because it keeps life interesting, and gives us opportunities to trust in God and become closer to Him when we don’t understand what’s happening in our lives.
That being said, after reading this article I realized that I need to start explaining Original Sin differently. Many people seem to think we inherit Original Sin from Adam. But we don’t inherit it. We suffer from the effects of it, for the same reason we suffer from the sins of people who are alive today. Before Adam sinned, the Earth was perfect, and so was he. Everything was in union with God, because everything was connected to Him since He breathed it into existence. It was His love that kept it alive and in union with Him. But Adam’s sin separated man from God, and since man and nature were connected to each other and to God, that Original Sin broke the bond between man and God and thus between nature and God, as this article explains. That made both man and nature imperfect, and the ripple effect from that Original Sin has been causing suffering for mankind ever since. It may seem unjust that God allows people to die from natural disasters, even if they’re innocent, but He has no choice. He gave us free will, and Adam chose to use his free will to sin, which triggered the events that are still causing natural disasters to this day.
Here’s another way to think of it: Let’s say a violent criminal is on the loose and holds up a random woman on the street at gunpoint. She refuses to give him her wallet, so he shoots and kills her. It turns out this woman was dating the love of her life, and was engaged to be married to him. So the murderer’s sin not only took the life of the woman, but it caused much pain and suffering to her fiance, who no doubt will be heartbroken, and may take years to recover from losing his soon to be wife. It also caused much grief and suffering for her parents, siblings, and friends. Why did God allow the murderer to kill that woman and cause so much pain and suffering for so many people? I believe it’s for two reasons: 1)He brings a greater good out of every evil (including His own Son’s death). “And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose”. 2)He gave every one of us free will. If He prevented us from hurting people, we wouldn’t really be free, because there’d be no consequences to our actions. He loved us too much to make us slaves, even though He had the power to do so. Allowing us to be free means allowing us to do bad things, including hurting and killing others. This same principle applies to Adam’s Original Sin, the only difference is that his sin upset the entire balance and harmony of nature, and since we inhabit the same Earth he did, we have to suffer from the consequences of his sin.
However, what atheists miss is that God always brings a greater good out of bad things. He’s all-powerful, so can something as small as sin stop Him from accomplishing His plan for the world? Of course not. If He had the power to create the universe, then surely He has the power to bring a greater good out of all the bad things people have done.
Finally, as Christians we have to remember that we were never meant to grow attached to this world, because it’s only a temporary home for us. God created us to be united with Him for all eternity. Heaven is our true and eternal home. So when innocent people die, that’s not a punishment from God, because they’re just going to paradise sooner than the rest of us. Of course we don’t want innocent people to die, we want them to have life, and have it abundantly, as Jesus said. But more than anything, we want His will to be done, and if that involves innocent people dying, we must not question it, because His ways are beyond our ways. If death is nothing more than the boundary between this life and the next, and the next involves eternal bliss and peace in God’s presence for those who are faithful to Him, then death isn’t a bad thing, and we should stop thinking of it as such. To atheists, this may sound cruel, but that’s because they’re looking at this problem through human eyes, which are very limited. We view things through the lens of time and space, and through our limited senses. God isn’t limited by such things, because He exists outside of time and space, and can see the good He’s been planning for us long before it happens.
This also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cry, or feel sorry for people who are suffering, or have died from such tragedies. Even Jesus wept before He raised Lazarus from the dead, and He already knew what the outcome of that situation would be. It’s only human to be moved with pity for people who are victims of bad things. But we also must remember that all bad things are temporary for those who love Him.
Deciding whether a long life or an early death is better isn’t an either/or proposition in God’s eyes, and it shouldn’t be one in ours either. God sees good in unexpected deaths, because those represent souls leaving this world and uniting with Him. Likewise, He sees good in innocent people’s lives being saved as well, because that means those people get to live longer and have more opportunities to serve Him and help Him save souls. In fact, St. Paul talked about this very thing in his Letter to the Philippians:
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me”.
We have to leave room for mystery in life, because by definition it’s impossible for finite beings to understand an infinite being. If we refuse to believe this, then we refuse to believe in God, and a rejection of God is a rejection of our salvation. So we must trust in Him, because He’s revealed Himself to us through the Bible and through His Church, and He’s made it clear that He loves us with an infinite love. He’s also infinitely merciful, so there’s no sin we can commit that won’t be forgiven by Him, if we repent of it and make an effort to never commit it again. Indeed, He even sent His only Son to Earth so that He could die for us on the Cross, so that we might be saved from the consequences of our sins, and united with Him one day in Heaven after Adam’s Original Sin separated us from Him. All the natural disasters in all of mankind’s history combined can’t compare to the evil of man killing God- the creature killing its own Creator. And yet if God brought the greatest good out of that (the Resurrection), surely He can do the same for us. We just have to choose to accept His grace in our lives and allow Him to do His will for us and through us.