In this episode, the group discusses whether natural disasters are the result of the fall of man or the evidence of God being the author of evil, but ultimately concluding that God is the God of restoration and hope.
Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana – Reasons To Believe Ministries
Michael Lloyd – “Café Theology”
David Bentley Hart – “The Doors of the Sea”
Alvin Plantinga – “God, Freedom, and Evil”
Tim Keller – “Growing My Faith In The Face Of Death”
Transcript – Do Natural Disasters Make God the Author of All Evil?
WWB S1 E6 TRANSCRIPT
00:00:00:10 – 00:00:22:11
“Do natural disasters make God the author of Evil?” Today on Where We Begin.
00:00:22:11 – 00:00:42:11
Hey, guys. Welcome back to Where We Begin, a podcast where we answer and discuss some of the toughest objections to Christianity. I am joined again. Oh, I’m Derek, by the way. I’m joined again by Alycia, Lou “Diamond” Phillips, and Xandra Carroll.
00:00:43:01 – 00:00:44:20
First time I’ve heard that. That’s really cool.
00:00:44:21 – 00:00:54:19
Yeah. Well, what most people don’t know, though, is they think it’s based off of the famous actor, but actually has something to do with your lower back tattoo. Would you like to describe?
00:00:56:10 – 00:00:58:23
I like your shirt today, Derek? We kind of match.
00:00:58:23 – 00:01:01:06
What do diamonds mean to you? Say that again.
00:01:01:06 – 00:01:04:06
I’m not going to let you hijack this podcast to just.
00:01:04:06 – 00:01:05:21
He’s literally running the podcast.
00:01:06:22 – 00:01:09:13
Well, I’m going to hijack it from you. How about that? How about we get into the question?
00:01:10:05 – 00:01:20:10
Really? Because that’s the part where you – OK. Um, well, we can. OK, we’ll do it.
00:01:20:11 – 00:01:28:02
Before, can I just say how much I appreciate you as an individual, Derek? Just before anybody else thinks or says anything, I just want to say you, as a person, I enjoy.
00:01:28:03 – 00:01:31:16
He’s totally sucking up because he doesn’t want you to give him the question first. That’s what that is.
00:01:31:16 – 00:01:36:15
I am sick and tired of you doing that because – I don’t know, randomly pick one of them. OK, I’m done.
00:01:37:03 – 00:04:01:12
OK, good. Well, we do apologize for the rough start to this episode. We really do love each other deep down somewhere. But this is – so this question was emailed to us, and I think it – I think a lot of people have this question because when you – I remember when I first became a Christian and I was looking up like, yeah. Evil, the problem of evil, is a major issue. We care about the suffering of people. And so you look at, Oh, what’s the answer to evil here? What’s the answer to evil there? And it was almost always about moral evil, which almost seems like an easier one. It’s not easy, but it almost seems like, OK, people do bad things. But this person asks this, and I think it’s a really good question. They said, “I know that moral evil is possible because God has given us free will and we choose to do evil with it. But what about natural evil like hurricanes and earthquakes? Doesn’t God cause those? And does that make him the author of Evil?” And so there’s – I want to start off with just there have been, I think, three main ways that that’s been answered. So just to kind of give people the options ahead of time, then we’ll kind of get into everyone’s thoughts. First is that what God controls nature, which means that if nature does something that causes pain, God causes pain. So you begin to doubt God’s goodness. Actually, the second option would be actually, demons can influence nature, and so God doesn’t bring pain, but he can’t or won’t stop it. So you still doubt God’s goodness and power and sovereignty. And the last one is that nature just does its own thing. It’s sort of neutral. So – but you end up with something similar to the demonic where you doubt God’s goodness again, his powers, sovereignty and his providence. So these are the, I think, some of the options that people think about when they come to natural evil. And it doesn’t seem like there is a good solution. So I’d just like to say – I’d just like to start out with Xandra because I know you love nature and nature does very, what seems like, very terrible things.
00:04:01:13 – 00:04:04:08
I thought he was going to say, You love natural evil.
00:04:04:19 – 00:04:07:05
I love natural evil?
00:04:07:05 – 00:04:07:22
What a way to start this.
00:04:08:12 – 00:04:43:13
No, but, yeah. I mean, it’s hard enough to sort of ask the question, “Why God doesn’t stop horrendous evils?” And natural disasters are typically mass disasters, but it’s harder to imagine that he also causes them. So I think maybe just starting out with, you know, are natural disasters actually evil? Is there something evil about them? What is nature doing in those moments?
00:04:44:15 – 00:09:02:02
Yeah. Well, even the question, “What is nature doing in those moments?” implies that sort of nature is this force that is perhaps segregated from humanity. But I think the picture that we see in the Bible is that we are intrinsically connected. And so even just so just from a purely scientific side, for a moment looking at natural disasters, we have sort of two clades of natural disaster, if you will. We have what’s called anthropogenic natural disasters and secular natural disasters. And secular doesn’t mean “without religion,” it just means it happened by itself. It wasn’t man manufactured. Man-ufactured. In any way. And then anthropogenic natural disasters mean humanity had a direct cause in what precipitated that natural event that was so disastrous. So I think it’s important to maybe delineate between those two just at the beginning of the discussion. And then another thing that I would add, as you were reading the question and as you were reading sort of the three options, I actually pulled up a Bible verse because I think there’s a fourth option that wasn’t on that list, and I’m getting that option from Romans 8 verse 20, and I’ll just read it for you now. It says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” And then he goes on, “…not only creation, but [also] ourselves.” So again, this is not only just showing the connection between humanity and nature, but also showing what happened at the fall. Because in the Christian paradigm, nature was broken because of the sin that entered the world. And so there’s a brokenness to nature that I think adds to a lot of the disasters that we see. But on the other side, I could go on forever. So maybe I should just pause and let you guys – OK. Just one other thing that popped into my head just now was, we’re responsible for what we know. And there are a lot of natural disasters that are anthropogenic in nature, and I’m not saying this to belittle anyone. Every single time a human soul is lost, heaven weeps over that human being. So I’m not downplaying the loss of human life here. That is a serious thing. Human life is sacred. However, we have made decisions on this planet and reaped what we sowed. One thing I’m thinking of, being from Colorado, is the Smokey the Bear movement that happened in the early 60s and the 70s. Where people decided we’ve got to stop allowing forest fires to go. And not only do we have to stop from lighting them, but we have to – any time we see a forest fire, even if it’s naturally caused, we’ve got to put it out because we have to preserve our forests. And a big part of that wasn’t so much that they wanted to preserve the ecology of the forest, because even back then, people knew the forest had to burn to be healthy, it was because a lot of people wanted to build their houses in the forest. The forest is a beautiful place. So, you know, for the sake of real estate and for the sake of this and that and the other thing, we have to keep our forests healthy, i.e. keep them from burning. Which was absolutely devastating. The forest got incredibly sick. We had bark beetles coming in everywhere through the – I mean, the Rocky Mountains were red with dead trees because of these beetles that killed the trees. Because these pine forests have a shelf life, they’re supposed to burn after a certain point so they can be replenished with new trees. And there was a lot of houses that were lost. So I mean, that’s a case of a natural disaster that I think was directly precipitated by human decisions. Maybe some of those were made in ignorance, but certainly arguably some of those were made deliberately. So that’s another, just to kind of throw a wrench in it, another aspect of this discussion.
00:09:02:13 – 00:09:10:19
I remember that Smokey Bear. I didn’t know that’s what it was about. But I remember as a kid, them talking about Smokey Bear. Like, “only you can prevent forest fires” or whatever they would say. So that must be the back story.
00:09:10:22 – 00:09:11:06
00:09:11:16 – 00:09:12:12
I had no idea.
00:09:13:09 – 00:11:00:09
Well, what would you say? So I think all of us are fans of, you know, Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana and Reasons to Believe. And those are good people over there. And one of the things that they will talk about because, well, I do want to say that’s very helpful to talk about the sickness of nature in the fall and the groaning of natures. It is that fourth option. But what about? So they talk about it, and this isn’t to challenge them necessarily, but just to kind of talk about this. Maybe this is the fifth option? It’s not even neutral or evil, but actually it’s only because of where we happened to be that we consider evil in reality. Like you just mentioned with the fires, earthquakes. The fruitfulness of the Earth, as we know it today, wouldn’t exist without the history of tectonic plate movement, which catastrophic in the moment, and yet, you know, it creates a world in which life can flourish. So what – I guess, are we talking about – It just depends on the situation that sometimes maybe it’s evil, sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s actually we’ll find out later it’s a good thing? Or yeah, is God turning something evil into something good later and that’s what is going on with tectonic plates? I mean, it’s a very confusing thing when we really get into the nuts and bolts of it. Is it just nuanced? Is that kind of
00:11:00:09 – 00:11:23:14
That’s my answer for everything. I think we try – I think we try to oversimplify everything, not realizing how multivariate and multifaceted everything is. I think the one thing we can say, from a Christian standpoint, though, is to – because the other argument, I think, that goes into this is “Is it God doing it as a form of judgment?” gets thrown in often. Like you’ll see when some massive tsunami or an earthquake. It’s like, well, I know that happened.
00:11:24:03 – 00:11:25:05
People say that was Katrina.
00:11:25:10 – 00:12:06:23
Katrina. They said it with Haiti because like – There is evidence in Scripture where God has used those types of things ultimately to enact judgment. But then there’s also the example, it’s either in Luke 13 or 17, I can’t remember, the Tower of Siloam. Which is that we don’t know why it fell. Christ doesn’t actually give an example. It more than – Whether it was poorly built or whether it was like an earthquake or something, He’s making the argument, he’s like, do you think this thing fell because they were any more wicked than you? And what Christ is saying is like, look, you’re all wicked. There’s no – you’re not going to find any right. I’ve not given you the information to say –
00:12:06:23 – 00:12:10:23
Are you saying Wicked or Wican? I’m sorry. Can you clarify? Because we are talking about nature.
00:12:11:11 – 00:12:12:00
You’re all wicked.
00:12:12:09 – 00:12:14:20
Wicked. Please annunciate. Thank you.
00:12:14:20 – 00:14:38:04
You don’t – you’re not always privy to that information. And the more that we try to pinpoint, here’s exactly why. And I mean, when I think of natural evil or just, it is interesting that we say natural evil. Is a hurricane evil or is it because we get in the way of the hurricane that it’s actually? And what I find to be the most problematic with that understanding is actually, when you look at the entire – who’s affected most by natural disasters? It’s actually – it’s the poorest of the world. Like us in the West, like, don’t get me wrong, we’ll have an earthquake, we’ll have things like Katrina. It still affects us. But when you look at the mass casualties, it’s actually the poorest countries in the world that it happens. And I’m wondering. What’s interesting to me is that when I’ve had the conversations of people from even those areas, they’re not wrestling with the question of whether God is – It’s a very Western thing to them to put upon it because we actually do look at something like that. And I’m not saying this for everyone because I don’t know. Let’s just take the natural disasters that happened in, let’s just say, India for now. Because we know that that’s actually happened even in our lifetime. When I’ve had conversations with people from that area about. They’re not jumping into a Western thought on that. And I was actually just reading an article that Tim Keller posted. Tim Keller, who everybody probably knows, is battling stage four pancreatic cancer, and he posted an article, I think back in March, about just suffering well. And he talks about how Charles Taylor brings up this idea. He’s like, this idea that suffering in general should then make us think God doesn’t exist. It’s a very new thought. That’s a very Western thought. That’s not something that we’ve set. Not that we we’ve always wrestled with the justice of God and where he’s at. But when it comes to my specific lived experience, now I can’t believe in God. That’s not even like – we think we actually push that on to other worldviews, which are just fascinating. That in a way of trying to, like, uphold our own values, we actually really diminish, in many ways, the cultures and the worldviews of people that actually go through the natural disaster suffering in a far greater way. I don’t know if that’s even a point to say. I just find that fascinating. Less as a like, here’s – what does that do? I don’t know.
00:14:38:05 – 00:18:16:13
Yeah, because I mean, there’s definitely, if you look at the Bible, right? And I mean, or even just cultures around the biblical times, I’m not saying something specific about the Bible, but cultures around, you know, there’s a famine and they’re like, OK, so there’s no rain. That’s a natural disaster. There’s no rain, OK? Or there’s maybe some other kind of thing that happens, and they’re like, Oh, we’ve upset the gods, you know? And so like, this might be judgment or this might be whatever, right? So that’s right. There was oftentimes in other cultures, there was this correlation between this happened but, you know, maybe I screwed up and that’s why it’s coming to me. Not necessarily saying that is what happened, but this idea, you’re right. We have Westerned everything. Classic Western, we make it about us, right? You know, it’s me and I’m being, you know, so somehow something’s not fair. It’s kind of how we tend to look at things in the western world. And you know, I was talking with a friend of mine, she’s from Florida and I’m from New York. And I remember talking with her and I’m like, I don’t know how you can live in Florida with all those hurricanes. That would totally mess with me. And she’s like, the hurricanes? I don’t mind the hurricanes. It’s the snow that scares me. And I’m like, the snow. It doesn’t do anything. It just falls and sits there, right? But it just goes to show you, like, you know, different people’s, like just their interaction with the natural world. What makes you maybe even more scared like? So it’s like we know when hurricane season comes every year, like we know it comes every year. And, you know, yet she’s OK with, you know, that doesn’t bother her. Like that the hurricane come through overnight. We’re like, OK, so there is a sense, which is why when you’re talking about the human element of that, you know what we’ve caused. But there’s also the sense of, you know, what we do know, like I think you mentioned, Xandra, and you know, just being accountable for what we do know. And we know that these things happen in certain places. We do understand tectonic plates. You know, we understand that oh, this volcano might erupt at some point soon. You know, we don’t know, pinpoint the date and the hour, but we do have ideas about some of these things. The challenge, of course, lies when, of course, even if we know something’s coming doesn’t mean you can move. Doesn’t mean you can get out of that particular area. And I think that’s where it goes back to. You know, if a hurricane came through on a barren island, nobody would really care and nobody would question the justice of God because you destroyed all the grass, you know, and you destroyed all the ants that were on there and whatever. It’s when it happens to a person. And so really, at the core of any – of this kind of question of natural evil is, why is this another way in which humanity suffers? That’s really ultimately what it’s asking. It’s asking why are we allowing humans to suffer in this way? And we’re getting back to all of these things of a broken world. Fine, a hurricane may not be in somebody’s story, but cancer might be right. So we won’t ever escape these various ways in which we are affected by the fall of this world, whether it’s our own physical bodies, whether it’s the actions of somebody else, or whether it’s the natural world around us that is just in chaos or that is just in destruction. And the reality is, like Derek was saying, is an earthquake isn’t bad like in terms of just itself, like it’s – we know these normal patterns and things that happen. Which is why, and I won’t open a box, I’m going to throw it back to you, Derek. But I won’t open another idea. But just as a quick tangent, you know, one of the things I’ve entertained is, we were in the garden. Maybe the garden was a safe zone? And then the fall happened. We entered into a world where these things were already happening. It wasn’t like, so maybe in the garden, there were no hurricanes, there were no earthquakes, there were no anything. And this was all going on out here. And it didn’t matter that it was all going on out here because it didn’t really – we were safe from it. But then when the fall happened, we entered into it. So it’s not even so much that it’s happening to us. It’s like we went into that world. It’s just – it’s an idea that I’ve thought through. Can’t say that’s exactly what it is, but just another thing. Another way to maybe think about some of these things.
00:18:16:17 – 00:18:23:12
Michael Lloyd actually writes about that in his book Café Theology. Just so you know, you’re not alone in that view. And yeah, it’s a really good idea.
00:18:23:18 – 00:20:49:11
Can we also say, sorry Derek, I’m just thinking of other biblical examples. It’s interesting that God often like I’m thinking the story of Joseph. God could have just said there’s not going to be a famine because he has the ability, right? And yet he weaves Joseph’s story ultimately to save Israel, and that’s his people. Like, why? Like, why does he work that way? Because what I think it really is is we just don’t like the way God does things. If it really comes down to it, it’s like – because it does seem like – so he is. So this is why I brought up even the idea of like the poorest of the poor are actually who’s affected by natural disasters. Like, what are we doing in the West? What are we doing, those of us that do have the ability to do something? Do we even allow our certain experiences and efforts to change that? To help that? Because it seems like all throughout Scripture and then all throughout humanity, we actually aren’t that good and we don’t even help when. And it seems like, so the reason I bring up the Joseph story is like, it seems like God actually will use us to do very, very good things in light of a world that’s actually seems to want to kill us. Why does it? Why are we in a world like that? That’s a whole other conversation, but and you have to you have to discuss that. Like, what do you do with that information in general, like it is where we are? And could God have created a world where that wasn’t the case? I don’t know. Like, there’s arguments for that. But like, I just want to pinpoint – it does seem that God does want to use us in light of the darkness of this world that feels like – that is able to kill us. The question is, are we willing to actually do something about that? And I think of that even today, just like Joseph did in being obedient to God, he ultimately saved his whole people by God giving him wisdom. And by the way, he went through a horrible, horrible form of suffering just to get to that spot. Unjust suffering. And yet God used it. That’s where I’m more interested in a God that’s willing to be able to use these situations versus like – because I do believe he’s sovereign. And yeah, do I wrestle with the question. Yeah, why don’t you just stop the hurricane? Yes, everyone does. But if there is a good reason for it? Which – and that’s the other thing that Keller would say in that article, I remember. It’s like the same God you’re angry with. If the God is big enough for you to be angry at, he’s big enough to have, like sufficient reasons for you to allow what he’s allowing. You can’t get off the hook like that.
00:20:51:22 – 00:22:37:19
Well, I want to – I do want to talk a little bit about, though, because it’s not necessarily all that popular in the world of apologetics. But if we want to – so the Biblical worldview. Can we let, I say this sometimes, can we let the Bible get very weird for a little bit? OK. OK. So even so in Job, obviously, a lot of calamity comes upon Job that is the cause of the Accuser. He’s allowed. But there is that. There are other instances, you know demons, where in the Bible it talks about demons having some control over nature. The rulers of the power of the air. The, you know, the way Jesus rebuked the storm and told it to be muzzled in Mark. And people like David Bentley Hart, who wrote a great book called The Doors of the Sea on this, C.S. Lewis, and even Alvin Plantinga have discussed the notion that you can’t necessarily remove the demonic from these equations. And this was the sort – when you read the Bible, this is the worldview that they have. It’s not necessarily that everything is that, but it is often. It’s kind of a weird view that we don’t often discuss. Yeah. Well, I mean, what do you make of something like? Is that even helpful to discuss it? Or is that like a way that they understood the world then, and we’ve learned more since then. You know, is that an obsolete?
00:22:37:19 – 00:23:28:14
My answer is, no. I think it’s very helpful. It’s one more variable in a very complex system. And that actually helps to know that there are more. When you think it’s just one thing and you can’t make sense of it, it actually allows even the logic behind something to get a lot easier to comprehend when you have like a multi-variant system. You’re like, Oh, OK, so it’s not just simply this. But this is what we try to do. We try to oversimplify everything. We try to oversimplify God. And then we get frustrated with it. It’s like we’re going to get frustrated with a being that was able to comprehend this whole thing and bring it into existence when we’re just a created being. So I say, no, I don’t think it’s just like – I think it is a variable. And I don’t know. I don’t think we have the ability, though. I don’t think we’ve been given the information or necessarily always the wisdom to know what is of demonic force and what is just happening.
00:23:29:20 – 00:24:12:02
I think that goes both ways, right? So what is demonic and what is God-caused. If you’re going to call something God-caused or that it was demonic, you better know for a fact that’s what it was. Cause sometimes people throw that around and it’s so destructive. But no, I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, we don’t like to think about the fact that there is this influence that the demonic realm can have over the natural world and even over us. And so in terms of illnesses, I don’t think Christians can be like demon possessed or anything like that. I think the Holy Spirit is in us and I think that blocks any of that kind of stuff. But I mean, but we do see that, in the text, that there is situations where they do have influence, and I think that is another thing for us to keep in mind. Unless we don’t like to think about it.
00:24:12:02 – 00:24:18:19
The world, the flesh, and the Devil, right? Those are the three forces coming against us and of course, can come against us through nature as well.
00:24:18:21 – 00:24:25:20
Yeah, yeah. Okay. Well, that was – that was really weird.
00:24:26:03 – 00:24:26:11
I’m all about weird.
00:24:26:11 – 00:25:21:03
But let’s, as we close up here, so I think the main question that we started with, we’ve talked about a lot of different things, and now that we have two seconds left. Can someone, you know, and maybe Xandra, why don’t you close out since we opened up with you, this question of do natural disasters then make God the author of Evil? Because that’s a frightening thing. We’ve given a lot of different – We’ve talked a lot about what natural disasters are or could be. And there could just be people out there that are just either afraid of God now or don’t trust his goodness because we’re not really sure where to land on these. It’s complicated. What would you say to people about nature and God’s role in it? And you know him being the author of Evil?
00:25:21:09 – 00:26:46:22
Yeah, I think, as in so many things, if we’re going to answer the question, “What is God’s relationship to nature?” – to look at the person of Jesus Christ. And I picture him standing on that boat, facing the storm, and commanding the waves to cease, and commanding the wind to be still. God is not an author of Evil. He’s an author of Good. And his creation is not evil. His creation is good. It’s been broken. It’s been marred. It doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to look. But one day you and I will see it as it’s meant to be, and one day we will see each other as if we were always meant to be when all things are restored. And that’s a beautiful thing to look forward to. And that gives me, personally, a lot of hope when I see the destruction happening in our world. I mean, I’m a conservation biologist, so I get really passionate about what’s happening to the environment, what’s happening to species. I get really fired up about that stuff. And sometimes it’s a little depressing. But I remember this God who is a god of restoration, and we have much to be hopeful for. And there are great things to come.
00:26:48:17 – 00:27:03:01
Wow. That was great. And the church said, amen, amen. All right. Well, thank you guys for joining us again today. Go ahead and Like, Comment, Subscribe. All those good things. And if you have questions for us.
00:27:03:01 – 00:27:08:22
You really sell that, Derek. Every time. It’s really like, I know if I was watching I’d be like, yeah, I’d love to Like and Subscribe.
00:27:08:23 – 00:27:25:17
I let the content speak for itself. But yeah, if you want to maybe have your question answered on the pod – discussed on the podcast, then go ahead and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see you guys next week. Peace.