First we had droughts and fires, then storms and floods, recently there was the devastating earthquake in Christchurch, and now there is the tsunami in Japan. With so many devastating catastrophes in our region, some will be asking “Is God to blame?”
In God’s defence one could note the following facts. First, pain and suffering have positive value, in that they alert us to dangerous, undesirable situations and they motivate us to attend to them and correct them if we can. If our wounds caused no pain, we might ignore them at our peril.
Sometimes the damage or disease that afflicts us cannot be cured, and ends only in death. And death, whether painful or not, will come to us all. Why do people die rather than enjoy eternal good health? I do not know. It might be a bit boring to live for ever. And how could the world contain all the people, if none had died? We would have to stop having babies!
Second, the world God has created is not chaotic, but runs according to remarkably constant laws of nature. We have the ability to understand the laws of nature and to calculate ways of predicting and controlling many natural events, to a large extent. We know how to improve crops, cure many diseases, build safe houses, and communicate efficiently. Of all the animals, our power of reason is quite exceptional and has enabled us to live very securely and happily most of the time.
Third, although some people use their reason for selfish and destructive ends, most people have enough compassion and love to help others when they are in difficulties, and to celebrate with them when things go well. The Bible’s New Testament sees such unselfish love as a special gift from God, manifest in the life and death of Jesus.
So although we have to work for a living in this world, and sometimes face difficulties, God has not left us helpless. He has provided us with reason to guide us, and the support of loving family and friends to assist us, particularly over the rough patches.
Still people ask: why does God allow bad things to happen to people on earth? Why does He allow storms, floods, earthquakes, droughts and fires to destroy people and animals? Why does he allow dreadful diseases to maim and kill so many thousands every day? Why does He not intervene to prevent the harm these things cause?
Why God created these destructive things I do not know. I can only imagine they were unavoidable by-products of the forces by which He formed the planet, and the processes of evolution by which He populated it. But it is easy to explain why God has not intervened to prevent them affecting people as they do. For us to understand and control natural processes, the laws of physics and biology that govern them must remain regular, unchanged. If God were to intervene on every occasion that someone might be harmed, we simply could not predict what was going to happen. We could not use our reason to predict and control the environment in which we live.
Finally, people also ask: why does God allow so many people to act badly, to exploit others through greed, and to kill others in the pursuit of power? It is easy to see that many natural desires are good: they incline to us eat and drink which is important for survival, to acquire resources to see us through hard times, to form families who will support us when we are in need. Trouble comes when we let these desires control us, and drive us to eat and drink to excess, to acquire more property than we need, to seek greater and greater power over others. We have the ability to master our natural desires, though with time it can become difficult, and to lead a simple, productive, and generous life. God has given us the intellectual capacity and the desire to do so, and it is up to us to lead a good life. If we do not, we often suffer physical pain, personal anxiety and social hostility, all signs that something is wrong and needs to be corrected.
God has not created heaven on earth. But He has made a world whose natural laws remain constant, so that we can understand them and so control events to a large extent. And he has given us compassionate, loving hearts so that we help those in need. Even the pain and suffering he has made for a good purpose, though sometimes it has no good outcome. Our world might not be perfect, but it is hard to think of a better one.