Aren’t all disasters natural?

What does God have to do with hurricanes?

According to secular society, both nothing and everything:

Nothing, because God’s existence is denied, and everything, because calling a natural disaster an “act of God” allows us to implement special insurance clauses.

According to orthodox Christianity, both everything and nothing:

Everything, because God is sovereign over everything, but nothing, because He does not go around specifically creating every specific giant storm system for a specific purpose.

Importantly, God does not send “natural disasters” as punishment. This probably needs emphasising, because every time a major disaster strikes it seems that some nut-job gets onto a camera and starts saying ridiculous things like “[affected place] was full of sin, and that’s why God has punished them with this earthquake/hurricane/flood/drought/etc”. So if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of that kind of message, let me reiterate: that’s not Christianity; that’s the words of a crazy person. We’re ALL full of sin, that’s the nature of humans, but God in His grace allows us a way to be reconciled to Him. The whole “floods as punishment” thing has no place in Christian theology.

It’s not just floods and earthquakes, though. Despite Jesus spending lots of his Earthly ministry healing the sick and precisely none of it making people sick, many Christians still seem to be stuck in a mindset of illness as divine punishment. Theologically, this is is equally wrong. But it does bring up an interesting paradox in our thinking:

When we ask why God allows natural disasters to happen, why do we distinguish between hurricanes and malaria? Why is illness discussed as a theologically distinct issue from large-scale environmental disasters?

Are “natural disasters” just bigger illnesses?

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4 thoughts on “Aren’t all disasters natural?

  1. The whole “floods as punishment” thing has no place in Christian theology.

    Does that include Genesis 6:11–13?

    Christians still seem to be stuck in a mindset of illness as divine punishment.

    Mark 2:5–11 reflects the Jewish view that disease is a consequence of sin.

    In the big picture, both disease and disasters can ultimately be viewed as consequences of original sin in a fallen world.

  2. Guardian :

    The whole “floods as punishment” thing has no place in Christian theology.

    Does that include Genesis 6:11–13?

    Yes. More importantly, it includes Genesis 8:20-21.

    Guardian :

    Christians still seem to be stuck in a mindset of illness as divine punishment.

    Mark 2:5–11 reflects the Jewish view that disease is a consequence of sin.

    From the teachers of the law, yes. But Jesus gives no indication of this view. And the man is not healed when Jesus forgives his sins.

    In the big picture, both disease and disasters can ultimately be viewed as consequences of original sin in a fallen world.

    I’m not entirely convinced by the “consequences of original sin” argument, but it’s certainly one way of looking at it.

  3. More importantly, it includes Genesis 8:20-21.

    This rules out global catastrophe, but not regional afflictions; cf Exodus 9–12.

    But Jesus gives no indication of this view. And the man is not healed when Jesus forgives his sins.

    And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

    That is a pretty odd thing to say to a guy who has obviously been brought for healing if you don’t believe in a connection! 😛

    But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the paralytic — “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”

    When exactly is the man actually healed? It is not explicit, but by using other words Jesus is demonstrating the equivalence of his authority. In my view that is a pretty clear indication.

    Do I think that Hurricane Whoever is divine punishment? Doubtful, except maybe for being reckless enough not to seek safe shelter during a hurricane! Is it God’s responsibility if I get hit by a California quake? No — it’s mine for living in a known fault zone. God isn’t about protecting us from ourselves. However, that does not mean that God never uses nature, or that it does not reflect supernatural events (Matthew 27:45; 27:51–54; 28:2).

  4. Guardian :

    This rules out global catastrophe, but not regional afflictions; cf Exodus 9–12.

    That’s Old Covenant stuff. I’m being pretty deliberate in talking about Christian theology.

    Guardian :

    …And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

    That is a pretty odd thing to say to a guy who has obviously been brought for healing if you don’t believe in a connection! :-P

    It is an odd thing to say, and you can see the reaction it provokes from the teachers of the law. And I think that’s what Jesus was going for, and in my reading that’s what the author of Mark is trying to highlight. Jesus plans to heal the dude, but he also wants to show that he is more than just a healer: he is the prophesied Messiah, and has the power to forgive sins. So he starts off with forgiving his sins to say, I am not just praying for healing on your behalf, I am God. There is no other way to interpret that statement in the Jewish culture of the time: sin is against God, so forgiveness can come only from God.

    That’s my reading of the passage, anyway.

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