The Problem With Natural Disasters For Christians: The Solution to Theodicy

Most Christians believe that God is omnipotent.  That is, they believe God is all powerful and therefore ‘in control’.  God is in control of the universe, and therefore the world.   I think most Christians (except maybe the Episcopalians) would accept that statement as a fact.

Weather, then, as part of the world, is also under God’s control.  Now whether or not God controls every cloud or simply sets the stage and allows clouds and winds and rain and such to fulfill his general will is not really the issue; the fact is, that given the premise that God is in control because he is all powerful, when storms erupt and destroy human structures and lives, God is somehow or other responsible because he either sets in motion the events to take place or allows them to take place and could, if he wished, stop them.

An absent God who ‘sets the clock and lets it run’ may be a comfort to some but it has no place in Christian theology.  We are left, then, with two facts:  1) God is in control; and 2) God allows disasters (if not outright causing them).

That discomfiting fact causes Christians all kinds of problems, I think we would all confess.  ‘How can a loving God allow such a thing’ or ‘God sent this as punishment for sin’ or ‘God is holding us accountable’ are the statements that inevitably surface at such times.

Is there a way out of this dilemma?   Is there a solution to the problem of theodicy?  Yes.  And here it is- found in a little verse tucked away in a little story secluded back in the Old Testament where people scarcely read anymore:

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice (1Ki 19:11-12).

God speaks- but he doesn’t speak in violence. Winds, earthquakes, fires… they all happen- but they aren’t the voice of God. If you wish to hear God’s voice in disasters you have to listen past the noise. If you wish to find a solution to the problem of theodicy, you have to remove yourself to a quiet place so that you can actually hear God’s voice.

When bad things happen we’re usually so busy crying out and lamenting and screaming at God that were he even to say something the noise of our own ideas would drown him out. That’s why we don’t ever hear ‘why’ this or that happens. If you wish to hear God speak, be quiet. Then you may learn something. You may even hear an answer to life’s most pressing questions.

Or in the words of Habakkuk-

וַֽיהוָ֖ה בְּהֵיכַ֣ל קָדְשׁ֑וֹ הַ֥ס מִפָּנָ֖יו כָּל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

4 thoughts on “The Problem With Natural Disasters For Christians: The Solution to Theodicy

  1. Jim, I met you briefly at last year’s SBL (remember, the guy from Berlin). To be honest, since that time, for the past year, I have been struggling personally with this problem of theodicy. Much of my response has been disaapointment and anger at God (I know, not a safe attidtude toward the creator of the universe). Even when I know how I should respond, I find it hard to listen. The spiritual nerves are just too hurt and damaged, screaming in disappointment and pain. Now you might think some great tragedy has occurred in my life, but it hasn’t. What I am dealing with is the cumulative effect of decades of personal physical pain and massive disappointment about several previously close and now fallen brothers in Christ. I appreciate you pointing out this Scripture and will think about it some more. Maybe I can clear the noise and hear something from God in my heart. Craig

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    • Berliner! hello. i have the same struggles honestly and am always trying to- somehow or other- come to terms with our good God’s doings. i know there must be a reason/purpose but sometimes it’s hard to find.

      i hope to see you again soon. i wont be at sbl this year because i’m elsewhere but probably will be next.

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  2. Dear Jim;
    I’ve always defended that God is “causistic” and not merely permissive and you mention something similar in your post above. We can and do remove many texts from context in order to make a myriad of points trying to take God “off the hook” when disasters happen as if God needs our “lawyering” and to be taken off the hook. However (there is always a however) your point is excellent! It is not the disaster, with all its tragic results that matter for it happened and there is not much we can do about it, but WHAT IS GOD SAYING that matters. My question has always and will ever be (although as I mentioned, I am outside of what Christendom calls ministry) to my constituents is: Now that the cloud is past the question is not why this happened and what and/or who caused it, but WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT? We need to be quiet as you said, and if at all interrupt our silence it has to be to raise our voices to God and seek His face. I can name a number of things that we can do now, but I want to know from God, through the Bible, and not through some TV “prophet” (better spelled “profit”), WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT! Charity to the victims is one challenge and it is in the Bible; not through government, but individual charity; proclaiming that this world is finite and dependence upon God is key to surviving disasters is another thing I can do.
    In all, this is a favorite verse of mine that I cite when disasters happen in my own personal life and THEY DO HAPPEN OFTEN:
    “Righteous is the Lord is ALL his ways; The LORD [is] nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them. The LORD preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy. – Psalm 145:17-20.
    God is never wrong; He is never unfair, He is ready to hear our invocations, our calling of His name; He will hear our cry and preserve us whereas destroying the wicked. This is the Lord I serve, this is the Lord on which is worthy to deposit my faith.

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