God and Earthquakes and the False Choice

The interviewer stared piercingly at the preacher. “So which is it,” he asked “Is God All-Powerful, but doesn’t care about the people of Japan, or does God care about the people of Japan, but is not All-Powerful?”

He was talking about the recent earthquake there. However, the two choices he offered (God is omnipotent but doesn’t care OR God cares but is not omnipotent) present a false choice. We certainly are not limited to having to pick one of those two options. 

Here’s a third: God IS All-Powerful and God DOES love and care about the people of Japan, but God does not micromanage everything on earth. And God calls His people to partner with Him in bringing help to the hurting.

Another way to say that would be to say God created humanity and gave us a large measure of freedom, and God created the world and gave IT a large measure of freedom to develop, often affected by humanity’s freedom, too.

By giving the Creation (the world) a measure of freedom I mean this, by example: look at Genesis 1. God makes trees which can in turn make more trees, He doesn’t make all the new trees – He creates the trees in such a way, they make new trees. The same with the fish, birds and you and me. This is not to say God is not behind the miracle of creation constantly, but there is a measure of freedom here. You can plant carrots or turnips. Your choice. Spin a globe far enough from a star with water on its surface and you will get predictable weather streams. God set that up.

So, in this world, certain phenomena occur. As Rich Rotz once insightfully observed, hurricanes are useful ecological forces for wetlands and coastlines, but when people build houses or cities where hurricanes occur, they often “feel” those forces as less-than-helpful. I add, if people choose to live in Antarctica, they shouldn't be mad at God that the farming stinks.

CAN God intervene in the weather or fault lines? Of course. Does He constantly? It doesn’t appear so. The weather is predictable – earthquake faults are too, to a degree. We aren’t predicting God, we are predicting measurable, observable phenomena in the world He made. The sciences developed in Judeo/Christian and Islamic societies precisely because those people believed God’s world was sensible, measurable, governed by understandable ‘laws’, not randomly occurring depending on God’s mood that day (which animistic societies believed) 

I’d say this gets demons off the hook as the controllers of fault lines, too. Some Christians have suggested some places get destroyed by natural disasters because demons had ownership of the fault-lines. That’s a hard sell for me: when we can tell a particular faultline is going to slip within x-number of years, are we predicting the activity of demons? I don’t think they cooperate that well. And, if they had access to faultlines, I doubt they’d be so lighthanded about wielding them.

Is God punishing people with these disasters? I don’t’ think we need to go there either. If He was, He’s pretty hard on small children and infants. I don’t think we need to lay that at God’s doorstep. (And what’s taking Him so long with California, too? One good quake and we could be rid of Hollywood!) I suspect some TV preachers who like to announce a disaster was God’s punishment will not say the same thing if it is their headquarters that gets destroyed in the next tornado.

Didn’t Jesus mention earthquakes? Yes, in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. Bible scholars for centuries and centuries have taken these passages to refer to the downfall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and ‘earthquakes’ ‘moon becoming as blood’ etc are Jewish apocalyptic phrases that aren’t thought to be intended literally. Last time I looked at the figures, I don't believe scientists were recording any increase in the frequency or number of earthquakes. We hear abotu them more casue we have CNN. We don’t’ have any records of Jesus mentioning tsunamis, hurricanes or tornados.

So, God IS All-Powerful and God DOES love and care about the people of Japan, but God does not micromanage everything that occurs on earth. And He calls His people to partner with Him in bringing hope and help to the hurting.  That may not be the most satisfying answer, and leaves open questions of “but why didn’t He stop….” but I find it to be, personally, a better answer than believing everything (you, me, that car that killed a 4 year old, the lottery, your child’s sin, that tornado) is simply a pre-written script that God wrote long ago and we are all just reading our lines. Some Christians believe that. They are still our brothers and sisters. But Christians drawing their theology from  the Wesleyan-Arminian branch of the Christian family tree (including us Nazarenes) do not.