Like many Americans during the past three weeks, I’ve been bombarded by news about the destructive power of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. The stories are of misery, death, and destruction.
The misery, death, and destruction are acutely difficult to accept because they have been visited upon innocents. I say that knowledgeable of the ancient argument that our personal and collective sinfulness has merited our pain. Yet that raises this question: Does anyone really deserve personal ruination because of personal sin, particularly from a God whose Son said He came to call sinners and not the just?
Stated differently, why does an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God permit innocents to suffer in natural disasters?
This question has occupied philosophers for millennia. The natural order of things has revealed that we all have free will, and we know from our experiences that we can easily abuse that free will. The individual will is so free that we can use it to do magnificent things or horrific things.
But a natural disaster is not the handiwork of anyone’s free will. Could it really be the handiwork of an angry God impatient with the manner in which we have abused free will? This argument is not a logical extension of Christian teaching unless God is terribly inconsistent with His impatience over human failures and errors and has somehow overlooked and not yet grown impatient with the world’s worst monsters.
Why the natural disasters? We know from the exercise of our reason that the curvature of the Earth and its continuous movement through space set in motion a series of forces. These forces protect the Earth and its inhabitants from the harmful rays of the sun and permit the intrusion of the beneficial rays. All this comes at a price. The movement of the Earth actually produces friction, and that friction, in turn, ignites energy, and that energy often is drawn by the Earth’s gravity and finds an outlet in destructive forces on the planet.
Though these forces — the linchpin of which is the Earth’s gravity — can be avoided through the exercise of creative reason (we can build shelters from them), they are often, as with Harvey and Irma, beyond our ability to harness or…