So this is just another problem of evil question, but it’s been bothering me for awhile

So the Earthquake of Lisbon. Thousands of devout Christians are preparing for the day’s festivities, ready to pray and worship the one true god. They file into churches, the streets, etc, and then … there’s an earthquake. It kills thousands of Christians. I just haven’t been able to wrap my mind around why a good God would crush a city full of people literally worshiping and praising HIM. And to give god the benefit of the doubt, let’s say this is just on the account of “the fall” (metophorical, literal, etc I don’t care). Even if this is true, we see instances in the Bible where god uses natural disasters to punish sinful lands. Does this mean that Lisbon was a sinful land? And if it wasn’t, how does one tell the difference between natural disasters and god’s wrath?

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I don’t believe that God is actually doing it. I don’t think it’s on the account of a fall because before humans were even here these kinds of things happened killing a lot of things. When something really good or really bad happens people always want to say it was God when it’s usually just a natural event or circumstances brought about by our choices.

When I’m reading the Bible and see if a major event that happens it typically seems like 1 of 2 things.

  1. It’s prophetic where God already knows what will happen and mentions it as a sign for his people.

  2. It was written after the event, and the story was edited, and maybe the people even 100% believed, that it was because of God.

However, I believe that all prophecy has ceased and so they are no longer happening for that reason and that every event is natural unless there is a direct unexplained supernatural cause. The Bible also teaches that it rains on the good just as much as the bad.

I don’t think it is just “another problem of evil question.” Its the steel man version of the hardest formulation of it in my mind. Natural evil. We can explain moral evil on the basis of the free will defense (being with genuine free will being the greater than not) but its difficult to explain why plagues, natural disasters and diseases kill God’s faithful? Why the hell did God create cancer and deem the world good?

Nature as we know it is red in tooth and claw and has been so since the beginning. The Bible tells us more or less the same in that it rains on the just and unjust alike.

I sometimes think that maybe in creating beings with free will, and in creating a universe to house these creatures, there are certain logical necessities or restrictions involved. Could God have created a universe with free-willed beings any better? I want to say no but if we believe in heaven is not this existence a stepping stone for another, better one?

But this may ultimately fail to resolve the issue if we believe in miracles. God can stop earthquake deaths anytime he wants. Or maybe we are supposed to live in a world with doubt and uncertainty? This is part of our growing process as God’s children?

Natural disasters and things like cancer predate humanity by billions of years. They cannot really be attributed to the Garden story. I am not sure there are any really good answers here. Just really damage control. I’d guess living in a world with uncertainty and anxiety over death was something designed, however.


I’d add that today we can somehow predict God’s wrath (before it occurs??). We can tell in advance when a hurricane is coming to shore. Further, we know when one is likely to develop to begin with. We know when conditions are going to be extremely favorable for tornadoes and we can monitor faults and volcanoes. Science isn’t fully there yet on all of these but its getting better. Ancient people didn’t have the same conception of science and how natural disasters actually occur. To them when the whole earth is shaking. Surely God must be angry. What else do we expect them to think?


Earthquakes are part of the natural world and natural forces. God doesn’t bang tectonic plates together, any more than he chucks bolts of lightning.

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It’s a very strong view of sovereignty that sees God as the cause of every natural event. I think God created natural systems, including tectonic plates, and that creation is “good” in that it performs its function. But the system is “free” in some ways to have effects on the world and we can judge some of those effects to be “natural evil” because of their destructiveness to the things we (in our freedom) have built and communities we have created.

I think the Bible is full of human attempts to understand suffering and seeing natural disasters as a punishment is one of those ways. I don’t think it necessarily implies that every storm, earthquake, volcano, drought, flood, or epidemic was intentionally unleashed on a population at God’s command. Could God use natural disasters as part of his plan to bring repentance or demonstrate his faithfulness? Sure. But I like to think of God responding to the “evil” effects of the freedom of creation in faithful ways to orchestrate his plans, not God planning and causing the evil effects in the first place.


After the disaster of the horrible Asian tsunami a while back, John Polkinghorne pointed out that we don’t live on a magical earth, but on a natural one where things like this can happen. We have to remember that while destructive, tectonic actions also have a positive side-- they bring up minerals from inside the earth to refresh the soils and keep them fertile. It’s similar to our unstable genomes. Mutations give us genetic variation and permit new life forms to develop, but they have a downside in that they can cause cancer.

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I don’t mean this to be a flip answer, but everyone dies, regardless of how. Isn’t this the same question?:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Luke 13:1-5

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We should also ask ourselves why God is only able to use hurricanes to punish people who live along the coast.


He has earthquakes, tornadoes, skin cancer, droughts, floods and a million other things to get those not on the coast. Don’t worry.

Murder is not okay just because everyone dies. Nor is waking down the road and standing by as a person punches a baby to death and you can stop it.

The point of the story is that we should all strive to enter and not worry about the status of others. God sends his rain on the just and unjust.

Jesus’ comment there hardly is a response to the problem of natural evil, however.

Asking why God created cancer is a very legitimate question, especially if you have watched family members you love suffer and wither away and die from it over the course of a few years.

Humans built that tower. God build cancer. I believe it’s hundreds of millions of years old.


Who said it was okay?! Good grief.

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Though you didn’t mean it to be, your answer was too flip. Jesus was talking to people who believed if bad things happened to people its because they were bad and incurred the wrath of God. Jesus was correcting this view. Both of the situations involve human choice going bad (human built building, mixing the blood). But we have no say in the motions of tectonic plates. Those were deigned by God.

Sweet dreams!

Your response was very well said. I agree there may be a bit of freedom in the system and we don’t have to think of God as causing every naturally event (despite verses like Amos 3:6). I suppose the major question for me in response is, why doesn’t God step in to miraculously alter the free system and prevent all that human suffering and death that is a result of his “good” creation? I could see a formulation of the problem of evil starting with, “If God has the power to save a person from something through no risk to himself but doesn’t, he cannot be all Good.” I think this is where the mysterious ways response usually comes in. Not very satisfying but I think its all we have though maybe there are better explanations out there than the ones I’ve seen.


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Yeah. Or maybe suffering and death aren’t as evil as we judge them to be from our human perspective. There aren’t simple answers, that is for sure.


Some people still believe such things, don’t they. There is something about your answer that you did not intend. :grin:

You have no say in when, how and where you will die, either, all things being equal.

I disagree. Are you suggesting God makes people commit suicide? They don’t, in a moment of mental instability and weakness choose to terminate their own life? A person can’t limit their lifespan by treating their body poorly or = engage in stupid activities that gets them a Darwin award? What exactly are suggesting?


Read what I said again, please. “You have no say… all things being equal.” What do you think that means?

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Obviously “control”. See my response.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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