Disasters (Part 2)

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Last week I wrote about disaster and how we should respond to them I concluded it with the following:

“So, as we seek to recover as a church from the pandemic what lessons can we learn from scripture? Well, I seem to have digressed too much and we have run out of space. We’ll come back to it next week!”

Well, after writing that I started to look at the book of Proverbs and the importance of searching and seeking diligently for wisdom and it seemed to me that I was not doing enough of that when looking at this topic.

So, it’s now become at least a  three-part series. This week, beginning to look at the broader issue of how Christians view and respond generally to disasters.

To help with all this I found a very useful chapter from an academic book called

“Christian Theology and Disasters: Where is God in All This?”[1]

We now have a much better understanding of natural phenomena and why natural disaster happen (that is, those that arise without direct human intervention).  Even so, people do look at natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, pandemics) and ask how could God let such things happen? As we saw last week, in the Old Testament especially, there sometimes seemed to be a direct link between people’s conduct and disasters directly sent by God.

That seems not to be case now, as Jesus implied when talking about the tower of Siloam.

However, that OT approach can seem to make more sense – God sending disasters to punish identified peoples who are wicked and/or disobedient (as opposed to ‘natural’ disasters befalling ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people alike) Some people today do still try and claim disasters are God’s punishment, but they seldom agree on who is being punished and why!

For most Christians the hard question is why an all-powerful, all-loving God allows any such things to happen?  Some of the great religious, moral and philosophical debates and movements in history have arisen out of such questions following disasters. Even if God has not sent the disaster as a punishment, why has he not protected the innocent? (It is worth noting that unlike Christianity not all religions hold to a single, all-powerful God, though some do).

Interestingly, of course, even ‘natural disasters’ are not free from the effects and influences of the human race.  For example, the biggest earthquake ever identified in North American happened in Alaska in the 1700’s and had relatively few consequences there – why? Because hardly anybody lived there! Compare that to say, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 that caused massive damage and over 3,00 deaths. Or take repeated flooding in Bangladesh, made much worse because people continue to live in known areas of tidal flooding.

Also, as O’Mathuna notes, many of the things that help avoid some disasters (for example, famines)  can at other times contribute to others. So, even if people cannot always be held accountable for what happens, they can be responsible for the consequences.

Next week we’ll look at some of the explanations people give as to why God lets disasters happen.

[1] O’Mathúna D.P. (2018) Christian Theology and Disasters: Where is God in All This?. In: O’Mathúna D., Dranseika V., Gordijn B. (eds) Disasters: Core Concepts and Ethical Theories. Advancing Global Bioethics, vol 11. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-92722-0_3