Saturday, February 18, 2006

God's Benevolence and Natural Disasters

Southern Leyte has been known to be a hotbed of natural disasters since the 1991 Ormoc flashflood tragedy which left more than 3,000 people dead. The early period of 2006 proves to be another disastrous period for the province. For the past two weeks, huge amount of rainfall (four times greater than the average annual rainfall of the province in normal weather patterns) has made mountain areas as danger zones. Series of landslides occurred within a week. The latest blow was the mudslide which caused the demise of at least a thousand residents of Bgy. Guinsaugon. The barrio was erased in the map of the province within five minutes. With the horrors of this event, many claim that natural disasters negate God’s love and benevolence to man. Others even argue that since these things happened, God must not exist. The grand question is: Why does God allow natural disasters to happen? The following thoughts could help resolve the inquiry.

First, disasters must be understood as God’s law of nature at work. The death of many people in Southern Leyte should not be misconstrued as an expression of
the “wrath of God”. Remember that God does not want people to perish but to have a life full of abundance (John 10:10b). Harold Kushner in his book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, writes that God has ordained preset natural laws that man could not defy. For instance, there is a law of gravity that no one is exempt from. What comes up will always come down. Natural disasters are non-selective.

As a corollary to the first point, we must also understand that Jesus Christ has the authority over the forces of nature (Colossians 1:16-17). He can influence the weather (Deuteronomy 11:17 and James 5:17, Numbers 16:30-34). As such, he can prevent natural disasters. As such, He could also use the force of nature to remind people of their shortcomings and sins against Him. Nonetheless, not every natural disaster should be perceived as a divine punishment. Third, some disasters may be a by-product of something that itself is good. Norman Geisler, Christian apologist and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina explained that the the physical world operates in ways that could be both beneficial and disastrous. For instance, the purpose of rain is not to flood or drown cities but it could result in disasters if there would heavy downpour. The discovery of fire by man has made things better for him. But the fire he discovered could also destroy forests.

Fourth, when God created the world, it was perfect (Genesis 1:31). But the fallen nature of man has destroyed God’s design for the management of His creations. Hence, the Earth was “cursed” (Genesis 3:17). Apostle Paul wrote that the entire creation was subjected to “vanity” and the “bondage of corruption” as a result of the sinful events that took place since the fall of man at Eden (Romans 8:19-20). We had a once perfect planet but now we live in a flawed and dangerous environment. The proliferation of environmental organizations prove that man has a dire need to protect his life by salvaging the deteriorating ecosystem.

Fifth, natural disasters should remind us that this world was never intended to be our final home (Hebrews 11:13-16). This is our temporal abode (James 4:14). Lastly, and I think the most important of all, we must perceive natural disasters as a wake-up call to everyone. We can escape from them but we can never be assured that they will never haunt us again. The state must ensure that people living in landslide-prone would be safe.Tragedies constantly knock on every household. Hence, we must be assured of the life beyond this earthly life. This assurance can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ. Romans 8:35-39 states "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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