Human evil and the evil of natural disasters cause people to lose their faith in God. Can this be prevented?
By Brian Lowther
Editor’s Note: Over the past few weeks here on the RWI blog, we’ve been exploring Ralph Winter’s Four Seeds of Destruction. Today, Brian Lowther continues his three-part series examining Seed #1: The Seed of the Problem of Evil.
I ended my last blog entry by describing my hunch that I think God has called us, commissioned us, and prepared us to battle four types of evil: human evil, natural disasters, spiritual evil, and violence in nature. When we do, I think that says something about God, that he is not the source of these evils, that he does not condone these evils, and that he is actively and visibly opposing these evils through us. If someone could be convinced of this, and if he or she were acquainted with numerous examples of God’s people attempting to overcome the roots of evil (and not just the fruits of evil) as a demonstration of his will, I think he or she would be far less likely to walk away from the faith.
Here are a few examples to substantiate that hunch from the category of Human Evil, then some questions about the Evil of Natural Disasters.
1. Human Evil
My mentor, Dr. Ralph D. Winter often described the hopelessness of rescuing girls from human trafficking, “For every one you rescue, ten more will show up the next day to take her place.” His point was that rescuing enslaved girls—which he would agree is crucially important—wasn’t getting at the roots of the problem. He knew that the roots lie deep within cultural, economic and political systems. To adequately address these systems, members of the society have to be transformed from the inside out, and in his mind, the gospel offered the best means to do that. As the gospel is planted, gradually the Holy Spirit begins to transform human beings, who in turn transform societies. The result is a reduction in the amount of war, violence, murder, oppression, and slavery, and an increase in the amount of peace, selflessness, equality, safety etc.
Obviously, there are examples where the opposite is true, such as Nagaland where over 90% of the Nagas are Christian; it is the most Christian state of India. Yet it is also considered the most corrupt. But for every Nagaland there are perhaps hundreds or thousands of examples of the Holy Spirit turning people from darkness to light to sacrificially serve their fellow human beings resulting in the flourishing of society.
One example that comes to mind is the way children—especially female children—were regularly left to die of exposure or sold into slavery in the pre-Christian Roman Empire. Jesus’ treatment of and teachings about children led to the forbidding of such practices, as well as initiating orphanages and godparents. Another example is the way the ancient Greeks and Romans had little or no interest in the sick and the dying. But the early Christians—following Christ’s compassion for the sick—established institutions for lepers and the beginning of modern-day hospitals. Alvin Schmidt’s How Christianity Changed the World details dozens of other examples just like these, showing how the gospel changed human society for the better.
Now, back to my hunch: what do these things say about God? I think they say, if his followers are actively trying to conquer the roots of a certain evil, that evil must not be something God wants or intends in the world. God does not intend for the world to be full of orphans, slaves, sickness, etc. And this allows believers to trust in his goodness, which prevents them from losing their faith.
2. Natural Disasters
What are believers doing to overcome the roots of natural disasters? It’s hard to say, isn’t it? I think Christians are marvelously active in responding to catastrophes when they occur. I may even be able to find some good examples of believers helping to avoid a catastrophe through some type of early warning system. But I’d be hard pressed to find a theologically motivated initiative whose purpose was to address the roots of earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, volcanoes, or hurricanes.
Perhaps this is because we either don’t know what the roots of these problems are, or, if we do—such as the fact that earthquakes are caused by the movement of tectonic plates—there is currently no feasible way to address these roots.
I’m reminded of a few instances where people attempted such feats. In the 1960’s the U.S. Army drilled a deep well in the state of Colorado to dispose of waste fluids. After a year of dumping, a series of small earthquakes (almost 200!) broke out in the area. A connection was soon established between the waste well and the earthquakes. So the army removed the fluid and soon the earthquakes stopped. It begs the question, couldn’t geophysicists install wells like these along fault lines in earthquake hot spots, to set off smaller, controlled earthquakes and thus reduce sudden, larger ones? Apparently the answer is yes, in theory. But the financial outlay of doing so would greatly exceed the cost of recovery after a major earthquake.
Another disaster eradication plan—also from the 60’s—involved dropping silver iodide from airplanes into the outer rain bands of a developing hurricane. The goal was to create a second eye to compete with a hurricane's powerful center, siphoning off some of its strength. They knew it wasn’t possible to stop a storm entirely, but even a small reduction in wind speed could significantly reduce the storm damage. Over a decade they seeded the clouds in four hurricanes. The storms weakened a bit, but ultimately experts agreed that the results were just a product of a natural process.
As far as I can tell, neither of these projects were established explicitly by Christians for the glory of God. In fact, the only examples I can think of where believers are actively attempting to address the roots of a natural disaster are things like the Evangelical Environmental Network or the Regeneration Project, which are both attempting to address global warming. Obviously, global warming is a contentious issue so I’ll stop here, because the important question to me for this essay is, what does our fighting the roots of the evil of natural disasters say about God?
If you discount these two organizations for just a moment, the answer is, it is our absence in fighting this category of evil, not our activity that is speaking for us and for God. Our inactivity implies that God created or at least approves all of the evil and suffering caused by natural disasters. Short of acting in these areas, we must insist, and insist very loudly that God does not cause natural disasters, and that the Bible gives evidence of another way to understand such events. Otherwise people will continue to walk away from the faith.
For a thorough and well written essay that explores the Biblical evidence that suggests another way to understand natural disasters, see Greg Boyd’s Satan and the Corruption of Nature: Seven Arguments.
Brian Lowther is the Director of
the Roberta Winter Institute