Why Would a Good God Allow Natural Evil?

As a police officer and homicide detective, I’ve seen my fair share of injustice and hardship. Every time I’m asked to defend the existence of God in light of the evil we observe in our world, I take a deep breath and try to separate the emotional nature of this issue from the rational explanations I might offer. I recognize the impotence of my rational response when trying to address to the emotional pain people experience when they suffer evil. At the same time, I think it’s important for us explore reasonable explanations. Natural evil is perhaps the most difficult category of evil we, as Christians, can address. It’s one thing to explain the presence of moral evil in our world (the evil actions of humans); it’s another to explain the existence of natural evil (earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters).  If an all-powerful and all-loving God exists, why does He permit natural evil? If God exists, it is certainly within His power to prevent such things. Why wouldn’t He?

God Natural Evil

The problem of natural evil is irreconcilable unless there are necessary or good reasons for God to permit such evil. If God exists, it is reasonable to believe that He would design a world in which free agency is possible (this is a necessity for true love to be achievable). In order to understand why God might allow natural evil, we have to do our best to examine the nature of the world around us, the nature of humans and the desires of God:

Some “Natural Evil” May Be the Result of Necessity
God may tolerate some natural evil because it is the necessary consequence of a free natural process that makes it possible for freewill creatures to thrive. Scientist-theologian John Polkinghorne suggests that God has created a universe with particular natural laws that make life on earth possible so that humans with free will can exist in the first place. As an example, the same weather systems that create tornadoes that kill humans also create thunderstorms that provide our environment with the water needed for human existence. The same plate tectonics that kill humans (in earthquakes) are necessary for regulation of soils and surface temperatures needed for human existence.

Some “Natural Evil” May Be the Result of the Nature of Free Agency
God may also tolerate some natural evil because it is the necessary consequence of human free agency. Humans often rebuild along earthquake fault lines and known hurricane pathways, and they frequently cut corners on building guidelines in order to save money. Much of this activity results in the catastrophic loss that we see in times of ‘natural’ disaster. There are times when ‘natural’ evil is either caused or aggravated by free human choices.

Some “Natural Evil” May Be the Result of God’s Nudging
God may permit some natural evil because it challenges people to think about God for the first time. For many people, the first prayers or thoughts of God came as the result of some tragedy. When ourpresent lives are in jeopardy or in question, we find ourselves thinking about the possibility of afuture life. If an eternal future life is a reality, God may use the temporary suffering of this life to focus our thoughts and desires on eternity.

Some “Natural Evil” May Be the Result of God’s Nurturing
God may permit some natural evil because it provides humans with the motivation and opportunity to develop Godly character. A world such as this requires human beings to cooperate and peacefully co-exist in order to successfully respond to its challenges. The best in humanity often emerges as people respond in love and compassion to natural disaster. It’s in the context of disaster that moral character has the opportunity to form and develop. Good character (acts of love, compassion and cooperation) must be freely chosen. God has provided us with a world that provokes us to improve our situation, care for those who are in need, and become better human beings in the process.

There are a number of ‘necessary’ or ‘sufficient’ reasons why God might create a world in which natural evil is occasionally permissible, particularly if God chooses to provide, protect and preserve the freewill of His children.


 

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33 replies
  1. ANTHONY says:

    “As an example, the same weather systems that create tornadoes that kill humans also create thunderstorms that provide our environment with the water needed for human existence.”

    Thunderstorms are not necessary conditions for rain, so this is a very poor example indeed.

    “The best in humanity often emerges as people respond in love and compassion to natural disaster. It’s in the context of disaster that moral character has the opportunity to form and develop. ”

    Perhaps it does, but not for everyone; in the kind of incidents where many people die, a. The moral character of the deceased can hardly be said to have been improved, and b. The survivors will likely be traumatized. Is that really an improvement in moral character? I doubt it.

    Furthermore, what possible purpose could be served by the suffering of animals?

    Reply
    • Al says:

      Your arguments are a reasonable protest against the author’s attempt to justify natural disasters. I would propose a more Biblical reason why natural disasters occur. It is because we live in a ‘fallen’ world- a punishment resulting from man’s falling away from God thru rejecting his guidelines and his authority over us. From massive earthquakes to the weeds that spring up in our garden, the mosquitos that bites us, the sun that burns our skin and temperatures that make us uncomfortable,we all struggle in a very less than ideal world. As God is the author of life and we owe our very existence to him, we have no right to complain if he decides to cut our life short or to make us uncomfortable (or even miserable) while we are alive. Complaining to God (who created the universe, matter, time, space and all life) is the equivilant of an ant complaining to the human just before his walking foot is shortly coming down on him. God has no moral requirement to listen to our gripes about the world until we first acknowledge that we are indeed here because of him and would not have existed apart from his actions that we could complain in the first place. There is a possible happy ending to this miserable scenario for everyone, but that is another blog post reply to some other article.

      Reply
      • ANTHONY says:

        It’s very common for people to completely misunderstand this point. The point is not a complaint against God. It is pointing out an apparent inconsistency between God’s supposed loving nature and the presence of evil & suffering in the world.

        Reply
    • Santiago says:

      “What possible purpose could be served by the suffering of animals?”

      Exactly. And small children. The most innocent human beings.
      Who gains what with that kind of suffering?

      And also, what is gained by child trafficking, sexual abuse, slavery? Why a moral god would let bad people damage (sometimes for life) the most innocent ones with acts as horrendous as those mentioned? And yeah, that has happened, A LOT, throughout human history. It’s not an isolated case. It’s happening right now. Why doesn’t god intervenes? What good comes from a child being sexually abused for years and then killed? Isn’t god powerful enough to intervene? Can’t he call the police? It seems like he doesn’t care. Mmm, maybe he’s not so good after all. Or maybe he doesn’t exist.

      Just an inmoral god (or a non-existent one) would permit atrocities like that.

      Reply
    • Nathan says:

      I agree its not the best example but I think we get the point. Good questions there Anthony and I’d be interested to see a discussion on them. As a person that works in a rescue role and often deals with death I agree that is does bond and bring out the best in a person (those doing the rescue or recovery) and does make people ponder death, the possibility in there being a god and the afterlife amoung other things. I do still wonder how these natural processes ‘evil’ could be in a place where God who is all loving, placed humans to live?

      Reply
    • Mack says:

      “Thunderstorms are not necessary conditions for rain, so this is a very poor example indeed.” But rain comes from the same weather systems that produce tornadoes and thunderstorms, so this is a very poor criticism indeed.

      As to your second point, consider that the animals that live in the desert are adapted to the desert. Many animals can also apparently detect things link changes in air pressure or vibrations in the earth that let them avoid natural disaster. Animals are more mobile than humans, they don’t stick around when the disaster comes or pump water from across the state. Most of the devastation from a “natural” disaster is magnified by human choice. A farmer standing in a field is going to experience an earthquake differently than a office worker in a high rise.

      You should also consider relearning the cycle of life and understanding that the death of animals is a crucial part of an ecosystem.

      Reply
      • ANTHONY says:

        I see plenty of rain – producing weather systems that don’t produce either tornadoes or thunderstorms. That is the point. If God can produce rain without either, then they are not necessary, and the criticism stands.

        Your reply to the second point doesn’t really address it at all. Are you saying animals are adapted to their environment, so they don’t ever suffer? That is nonsense.

        Of course I understand ecosystems, that is a very patronising remark. But we aren’t discussing ecosystems. Ecosystems are ecosystems on atheism; the question is, why would God design an ecosystem that involves suffering?

        Reply
    • Tracey says:

      Moral character of the deceased can hardly said yo improve, this statement is only relative atheist not to people who believe in God through Jesus there is no death.
      We don’t stop our existence because the body dies.
      Amen.

      Reply
  2. Santiago says:

    “Humans often rebuild along earthquake fault lines and known hurricane pathways, and they frequently cut corners on building guidelines in order to save money.”

    You know humanity has understood plate tectonics for no more than 200 years at most, right? Before that, it was indeed believed that earthquakes were acts of god(s) to punish people.

    Interesting though, the poorest and most vulnerable are the most affected by these “acts from god”. Sounds like a truly loving heavenly father.

    So, this loving god sent earthquakes to punish people. Or he permitted earthquakes to punish people, or to “provide, protect, and preserve” the free will of his children.

    Yeah, nothing like torturing your children to teach them a lesson. A truly moral god, indeed. 😂

    In all seriousness, as a former christian, i invite you with fraternal love to judge this immoral god (all-powerful, all-loving, knows everything; but he is a mean motherfucker that permits tons of innocent suffering) for what he is: the product of goat-herders’ minds from ancient times.

    You’ll live a much more morally, meaningful life rejecting this illogic creature. Believe me. Embrace the reality. It’s the best that can happen to anyone.

    Reply
    • S.H. says:

      Dear Santiago,

      This reply to you is written in love.
      Did GOD reveal to you that HE sents earthquakes to punish people? HE made the heavens and the earth, HE created Adam and Eve. As a former Christian you will know these things written in the Bible. I am a Christian and I certainly do believe that GOD is a GOD of love. HIS creation is a master piece! Human kind got given free will, correct? And look what human kind has done with it? God is torturing his children? Well in my experience since I was born it is rather the other way around. We are living in a world full of abuse, torture, corruption which is not actioned by GOD the people around us do these things. Every day I realise I am living in a world I am not a part of. GOD is my only refuge and I will pray for you and all the other people who think like you. I realise again and again with everything I have to endure by the hands of human Kind, not by GOD that I want to be close to my creator as no human being can help like HE can.
      May GOD look into your heart and bless you and yours abundantly.

      Reply
    • Tracey says:

      As you have decided not to be a Christian anymore.
      Did you go into to quiet contemplation with God, or did you leave all the work up to someone else, therefore, resulting in no communion with God?
      Or what type of God,( false god), did you link up with, and/or, were you doing a pretend approach to suit, relatives or other, What am I asking? What was your lead into, knowing your were not a Christian as apposed to knowing God.
      Did your disappointment ( I assume this is what turned you away from a god you thought you believed in), so this god, didn’t do what you asked for and/or expected?
      Did you ever read the oldest book of the Bible, Job, and did you read the KJV, the Authorised version, and older one?
      I know when one of my children can’t have their own way, they react disgruntled, but as their mum, is all good as I love them unconditionally.
      Yes God is good, well the one I believe in, as a Christian, who has read all the bibles, as not all the bible have the same books in them, I have also read the Gita, the Quoran, Agnositics book James.
      Anyway just thought I’s ask, curious thats all.

      Reply
  3. Tracey says:

    So how would you like to earth to be, without weather patterns, without earthquakes, if you were in charge what would you do, would you gather up ALL the people; where a weather event is to take place and move them to some other place/country? or would you just take the people you trust who are good, and if so how will you know?
    What would you do, to keep the planet energised? rain, snow, sun, yes/no how much?
    floods any of these and where?
    fires, yes, no?

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “if you were in charge what would you do”

      I’d get rid of the parasitic nematode worms that blind small children by burrowing into their eyes. I’d also get rid of malaria. Any argument with that?

      As a side note, I don’t think earthquakes are necessary to ‘keep the planet energised’.

      Reply
      • ANTHONY says:

        The point is, none of the bad stuff is necessary under an all-powerful God – he could have designed the universe any way he wanted.

        Reply
      • Tracey says:

        I believe the planet is a living cell. So why shouldn’t there be these weather patterns and why are they bad?
        I’d rather die, in a weather event than at the hands of a person, be it single, war, or what ever.
        Andy.
        And no argument with the removal of those; agree, out with those, and worms, ugh horrid.
        Earthquakes, and reenergise yes okay with these.

        Reply
      • Paul says:

        Hi Ryan, I agree that there are many things God could have done to make this world a better place. Firstly, do you agree with me on the part that there is a God? I take an assumption that you believe that is a God and if the God you believe in is the Christian God then the answer is pretty simple. If you read the book on genesis, God did create a perfect world in the beginning just that it was so perfect that man went his way to commit the only thing God disallow and thus now we are all in this fallen world which is why we have to deal with the suffering. But of course if you disagree with me that there is no God because a moral God wouldn’t allow suffering. Then my question would be how we define suffering without having God in the picture

        Reply
  4. Jibu says:

    Let’s assume that God does not exist. What solution do you have for all the issues mentioned in all the comments such as child abuse, rape, animal abuse. When we try to find an ideal solution for all these issue, we can be sure that we would not end up anywhere other than change of our wicked hearts (you like it or no). For which science, modern counseling techniques, arts…do not provide any hopes to offer a solution for the issues. If we do not have a real solution to offer and if we are not ready to receive the ultimate solution, the only way would be to learn from the experience and get on the right track. It’s like, a child can only be told not to touch the hot iron, we cannot tie him up to stop him from doing it. Still if he doesn’t listen, it’s ultimately the experience going to teach him and keep himself away from the danger. For me, based on all the studies I have done, only Jesus provides the solution.

    Reply
    • ANTHONY says:

      The topic is natural evil. Try reading the article again, grasping the topic at hand, and then make a suitable response, because you’re completely missing the point.

      Reply
      • Jibu says:

        You still haven’t got the big picture. My best guess is you are an atheist. I’ll explain you how my response answers natural calamities also even though I have not mentioned it in my last comment and there is a specific reason why I have not mentioned it. Did you see the starting of my comment. “Lets assume God does not exist”. If God does not exist, how can you blame God for the Natural calamities. All you have is the natural reasons. On the other hand, if you consider the possibility of the existence of God, you cannot just nitpick points to criticize. You will have to consider the God who knows everything as a result who gives perfect Justice and He is the God of perfect Goodness and because of which sin is real and it’s zero tolerance for it. Now considering all these points do you find yourself in a position to blame or criticize God for his actions. Not at all. We do not even know what’s going to happen in the next second. And you are criticizing God who knows everything. How fair it is??

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “If God does not exist, how can you blame God for the Natural calamities. All you have is the natural reasons.”

          Exactly, and the natural reasons makes a lot more sense. No dilemma at all – bad things happen because no-one is in charge controlling everything. The world is pretty much exactly as you’d imagine a world would be if it operated completely on natural principles – awful suffering, randomly distributed. Any God you posit has to be completely unknowable and unpredictable, and you have to perform all sorts of tap dancing, odd arguments and apologetics to explain away the above awful suffering in order to reconcile it with the existence of a being that has this trifecta of qualities: all powerful, all knowing, all loving.

          Reply
          • Jibu says:

            “The world is pretty much exactly as you’d imagine a world would be if it operated completely on natural principles”
            No quite exactly. The beginning of universe from nothing cannot be doesnt have a natural explanation, the origin of life is still a mystery in terms of natural explanation. We are objectively agreeing to the moral law that killing innocent people is wrong, that cannot be explained naturally..the list is quite of things which cannot be explained naturally. But its upto an individul to just pick things which may seem to have a natural explanation. But can we really build a Truth claim in that way? Just think about it.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            “We are objectively agreeing to the moral law that killing innocent people is wrong, that cannot be explained naturally”

            Social species that evolve a taboo against killing each other have an advantage over ones that don’t. And societies within that species that develop systems of government that enforce laws against it have an advantage over other societies that don’t. No mystery there at all.

            “the origin of life is still a mystery in terms of natural explanation”
            Even if it remains forever a mystery, it doesn’t help you to posit an even bigger mystery to explain.

          • Jibu says:

            Having advantage over the other.. is that the best explanation that you could give for society to live morally? Well, then please explain why the stronger society should not just kill the weaker one ? What’s wrong in doing that?
            “Even if it remains forever a mystery, it doesn’t help you to posit an even bigger mystery to explain.” – but the Big question still remains unanswered – How this universe could begin without any natural reason. When there is no natural reason to explain, you do not have anywhere else to look but for a supernatural one.

          • toby says:

            “Well, then please explain why the stronger society should not just kill the weaker one ? What’s wrong in doing that?”

            Perhaps because they overlook that we’re all one species rather than an arbitrarily constructed group based on geographical location or familial relation. This is a case of tribalism over humanity. It’s the same poison as religion, patriotism, racism, and professional sports fandom. A line in the sand that causes more harm than good.

            “How this universe could begin without any natural reason. When there is no natural reason to explain, you do not have anywhere else to look but for a supernatural one.”

            You’re just playing with words. Not you, actually, the apologists that push this trick of language to confuse. They label it supernatural and their conclusion is “Supernatural, therefore god.” They exclude the fact that there is could possibly the universe visible to us is only a part of something else we can’t see or may never be able to detect or deduce. They also exclude the possibility that the cause is other-natural. Some other set of physics that has nothing to do with intelligence and design. Just remember that when they say a god is spaceless, timeless, and immaterial, they just mean not our space, time, or material and they have no justification to say that it doesn’t exist in it’s own time, space, and material.

        • ANTHONY says:

          If you think I’m an atheist, then it should be obvious that I’m not “blaming God” for anything, since I don’t believe in God. The point is made to illustrate an apparent contradiction between reality and the supposed attributes of God.

          The rest of your message appears to be gobbledegook.

          Reply
          • Jibu says:

            Anthony, your illustration in totally wrong for the simple reason that you have just considered one attribute of God – all loving God with ultimate Goodness. You have just blindly ignored all other attributes. That’s why you could not grasp my rest of the message. It’s as simple as that. You have actually illustrated the contradiction between reality and the supposed attributes of God that you personally ‘not’ believe in.

  5. Andy Ryan says:

    “Having advantage over the other.. is that the best explanation that you could give for society to live morally?”
    You said it couldn’t be explained naturally – I just gave you a natural explanation.

    “Well, then please explain why the stronger society should not just kill the weaker one?”
    Why Europeans shouldn’t kill off the Native Americans, you mean? You tell me – because Christians don’t seem to have a problem with that!

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      …But to answer your question directly, JIBU, simple game theory tells us that societies that collaborate with each other do better than warring ones. And real world examples do too: WWI and WWII weren’t great for humanity as a whole, right? Taken as a species we wasted a huge amount of resources, time and lives for completely unnecessary fights. Germany is much better off now as the strongest member of the EU than it was in 1945, no?

      Reply
      • JIbu says:

        “Christians don’t seem to have a problem with that!” ??..why do you think so ? And even if it’s true, it doesn’t prove an immoral God.
        Your simple game theory is simply insufficient to explain why man lives morally and it is illogical too. I’ll explain. Your reasoning to live a moral life is all about benefits in terms of saving resources and time. Not really. If that’s what it’s all about then what’s the point in keeping the unproductive parts of a society like old people, mentally challenged, poor people. We just do not serve them for saving resources or time. We serve them because we ought to do it. But why we ought serve them?

        Reply
      • Jibu says:

        Your simple Game Theory is simply insufficient and sometimes illogical explaining why man lives a moral life. If living morally is all about saving resources and time, there are instances where our call for a moral behavior goes beyond saving resources and time. For example what’s the purpose of keeping the unproductive parts of society like old people and disabled. So your answer may solve the puzzle ‘why war is bad’ but not ‘why man behaves morally’ or why it’s good to be moral.

        Reply
  6. Susan says:

    It’s a really hard question to know why terrible weather events happen. What if God uses them to increase existential awareness? Also this life is temporary maybe He doesn’t want us to get too comfortable or to try to depend too much on ourselves. The more we have the illusion of control over the environment and life circumstances the less we depend on Him.

    Reply

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