Why Does God Allow Natural Disasters?
by Stephen Edwards
Filed under The Problem of Evil
Natural evil consists of any deformity within the natural world that leads to suffering such as: natural disasters, diseases, predatorial animals, and bodily weaknesses. This article will argue that natural evil can be plausibly explained by appealing to the free will of angels.
According to traditional Judeo-Christian thought, God created angels and gave them the freedom to choose between good and evil. Furthermore, it is possible that the angels’ freedom could extend to choosing what the laws of physics would be for the universe.1
So some of the bad angels could have chosen laws of physics that the angels would know would result in natural evil.
Of course, traditional monotheistic theology teaches that God is the only creator. However, this explanation is not suggesting that there are other creators in the same sense that God is the creator (since only God gives things their existence and God is still the one creating the laws). Rather it is suggesting that God did not entirely decide what the laws of physics would be, rather God put in place laws that were decided upon at least in part by the angels.2
One may wonder why God would allow this, but perhaps God wanted to allow the angels to help Him create the world (by helping decide the laws of physics) similar to how God wants to allow humans to co-create through procreation. Co-creation allows creatures to participate in being like God. In fact, it is part of God’s love to allow His creatures to participate in co-creating with Him, even though creatures may misuse that gift.
Of course, God could have limited the number of laws that the angels affected, but perhaps due to His love, God did not withhold His gift of co-creation from the angels, but rather He allowed the angels to help decide laws for throughout the universe.
Now the Judeo-Christian tradition does believe that God performs miracles that violate the laws of physics but if God worked miracles that violate the laws of physics all the time then God would simply be abrogating the laws that the angels decided upon. Yet if the angels were truly given decision over what the laws would be and God were to choose to always override the harmful tendencies, then those tendencies would not have truly been put in place. God would not have truly allowed the angels to co-create with Him.
However God can sometimes choose to override the laws, but those are rare exceptions. Perhaps God can only justify working a limited number of miracles in order to strengthen peoples’ faith and help them attain salvation3, but He cannot justify working miracles all the time, without overriding the tendencies that were put in place.4
One may still wonder why God did not just create everyone (humans and angels included) in heaven without the freedom to ever choose evil. Yet, as has been argued by others, it would be unjust for God to force His creatures (human or angel) to conform their will to His without first giving them some chance at using their will as they choose. So due to God’s justice, the first round of creation is where humans and (at least for some amount of time) angels can choose between good and evil.5
In conclusion, I think it is very reasonable to explain natural evil by appealing to some of the angels’ poorly choosing how to arrange the laws of physics.
For a discussion (and criticism) of Alvin Plantinga’s view on this see this post by Randal Rauser. For works that seem to endorse or be open to the idea that angels could be responsible for natural evil see: Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 72-73; J.R.R. Tolkien, The Simarillion (New York: Del Rey, 1977); David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? (Grand Rapids Michigan: Eerdman’s Publushing Co. 2005); C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain found in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: Harper Collins, New 2007), 631-633. ↩
- How this works, we don’t know. However, since God knows the collective will of all the angels, He could create a universe with laws that reflects the angels’ overall will in how the universe will operate. Some of the angels may have wanted the universe to follow God’s plan and while some did not want it to. So God instituted laws that are a reflection of the combined collective will of all the angels. ↩
- I am sure I have heard this explanation for the purpose of miracles given somewhere, but I am not sure where. ↩
- A similar point is made about God arbitrarily drawing the line on how much He chooses to intervene in the world in Peter van Inwagen The Problem of Evil (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) ↩
- For a similar response see Jimmy Akin’s article “Will We Have Free Will in Heaven?” ↩
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