The Problem of Evil as it Relates to Natural Disasters and Childhood Diseases

I received the following email from a pastor a while back, and wanted to share my response to him in case you’re posed a similar question:

“Hi Candace,

Do you answer Apologetics questions? If so, mine is: we know that a lot of what happens in this world is due to human sin and selfish abuse of other human beings by heartless and powerful people. In other words, there is evil in the world, and these are consequences of evil actions by humans…

What about diseases that strike young children? Or natural disasters? Does God cause those?”

The following was my response to him:

Thanks for your questions. Since I assume that as the outreach pastor you most likely receive questions concerning the ‘Problem of Evil’ in light of its ’emotional’ aspect more so than the intellectual/philosophical aspect (which can seem to come off as “dry or uncaring” to people who are personally struggling with this issue), I’ll do my best to answer with that in mind.

First of all, you are definitely right when you acknowledge the role that human depravity plays in this problem. But another connection that people don’t often realize is that the problem of natural disasters can actually be answered the same–the sin of humanity. In other words, there is Scriptural evidence affirming that just as God pronounced a curse upon man as a result of his rebellion (Adam’s sin), He pronounced a curse upon man’s habitation (the earth) as well. The following is a quote from a book entitled “Faith, Form, and Time” by Kurt P. Wise: “…sin would not taint only the spiritual nature of man; it also would cause him to abuse the physical creation–everything he was given dominion over. But God was prepared even for this. The physical creation, though initially designed to last forever, was also designed by its Creator to be adjusted (cursed) in such a way that it would die. But just as redeemed man has the hope of resurrection, creation itself will one day be transformed by God into a new heaven and new earth. The curse was fatal, but not final…Scripture suggests that this curse was applied to the entire universe. Just like humans, for example (Is 50:9), the heavens and the earth ‘wax old like a garment’ (Ps. 102:26; Is. 51:6; Heb. 1:10-11). Just like humans (Rom. 8:23), the entire creation is under the bondage of corruption,’ and it ‘groaneth and travaileth in pain’ (Rom. 8:21-22). But we are told that it was not initially created that way. Some time after the creation it was made ‘subject to vanity (Rom. 8:20). It was done so the ‘aged garments’ of man (Rom. 8:23) and the entire universe (Rom. 8:19) could be changed (Ps. 102:26; Heb. 1:12). God did something in response to the Fall of man to cause the entire universe to age, to deteriorate, to fall agonizingly short of the perfect reflection of God it was created to achieve, though He did it for His own higher redemptive reasons…there is at least one more interesting side effect from the post-Fall status of the Second Law [of Thermodynamics]. According to this law, there is a tendency for complex systems (including the universe) to change downward (or devolve) in complexity, rather than to change upward (or evolve) in complexity.” (p. 159). Also, JP Moreland and William Lane Craig acknowledge, “It may well be the case that natural and moral evils are past of the means God uses to draw people into His kingdom” (545). I hope this explanation of “geological evil” helps.

I’d like to address your question of whether or not God has “caused” these events of an evil nature to occur. God has what theologians refer to as “permissive decree.” This decree defined is “a decree (a) not to hinder the sinful self-determination of the finite will and (b) to regulate and control the result of the sinful self-determination. [In other words] ‘God’s permissive will is His will to permit whatsoever He thinks fit to permit or not to hinder.’ It should be observed that in permitting sin, God permits what He forbids. The permissive decree is not indicative of what God approves and is pleasing to Him. God decrees what He hates and abhors when He brings sin within the scope of His universal plan…The will of God, in this case, is only a particular decision in order to some ulterior end. This particular decision, considered in itself, may be contrary to the abiding inclination and desire of God as founded in His holy nature; as when a man by a volition decides to perform a particular act which in itself is unpleasant in order to attain an ulterior end that is agreeable… [Therefore] by reason of permissive decree, God has absolute control over moral evil, while yet He is not the author of it and forbids it. Unless He permitted sin, it could not come to pass” (“Dogmatic Theology” by William G. T. Shedd, p.319). On the same note, we can especially apply this permissive decree to our redemption—we give all the glory to God for the effects of the Crucifixion of Christ, but at the same time aren’t we giving Him glory for the horrible, excruciating death itself of Christ that He permitted for our benefit? And yet Scripture clearly states in reference to the Father’s perspective of Christ’s atoning death, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him” (Is. 53:10). We, as believers know that it pleased the Father so because He foreordained that the crucifixion (gruesome though it was) lead to our personal salvation. That’s why it pleased Him. So, to answer your question of whether God causes evil—the Bible says an emphatic ‘no,’ however, by the doctrine of God’s permissive decree, we do know that in His sovereignty He allows the evil that we cause for His own redemptive purposes from His eternal perspective as an infinite God.

Regarding the other question of diseases that strike young children, I would pose the same answer, which affirms human sin as the culprit. Kurt Wise says, “Beginning after the Fall, genetic copying errors (such as mutation) entered the world and began to accumulate in the DNA of organisms. Some mutations compromised the design of the organism, leading to failed or impaired function. This led to diseases such as diabetes, sickle-cell anemia, etc…this new level of pain and suffering—death, disease, human abuse—would cause emotional, physical, and spiritual suffering that never existed before the Fall (p. 167). Although it’s difficult to conceive of how a just and loving God could allow the original sin of Adam and personal sins of others to negatively affect an innocent child, it’s an even more sobering thought that God is so holy and righteous that any type of sin offends Him to the point of Him being obligated to punish it—hence, the reason behind the Cross. JP Moreland and William Lane Craig put it this way: “When we comprehend His sacrifice and His love for us, this puts the problem of evil in an entirely different perspective. For now we see clearly that the true problem of evil is the problem of our evil. Filled with sin and morally guilty before God, the question we face is not how God can justify Himself to us, but how can we be justified before Him. ..When God asks us to undergo suffering that seems unmerited, pointless and unnecessary, meditation on the cross of Christ can help to give us the moral strength and courage needed to bear the cross that we are asked to carry. So, paradoxically, even though the problem of evil is the greatest objection to the existence of God, at the end of the day God is the only solution to the problem of evil. If God does not exist, then we are locked without hope in a world filled with gratuitous and unredeemed suffering. God is the final answer to the problem of evil, for He redeems us from evil and takes us into the everlasting joy of an incommensurable good, fellowship with Himself” (Moreland, Craig, p. 552).

4 thoughts on “The Problem of Evil as it Relates to Natural Disasters and Childhood Diseases

  1. The Heidelberg Catechism

    Q. 26. What do you believe when you say: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”?

    A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth with all that is in them, who also upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ his Son my God and my Father. I trust in him so completely that I have no doubt that he will provide for me with all things necessary for body and soul. Moreover, whatever evil he sends upon me in this troubled life he will turn to my own good, for he is able to do it, being almighty God, and is determined to do it, being a faithful Father.

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  2. You might be interested in this online commentary “Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job” (http://www.bookofjob.org) as supplementary or background material for your study of the Book of Job. It is not a sin to question God, to demand answers from God. There is a time and a place for such things. It is written by a Canadian criminal defense lawyer, now a Crown prosecutor, and it explores the legal and moral dynamics of the Book of Job with particular emphasis on the distinction between causal responsibility and moral blameworthiness embedded in Job’s Oath of Innocence. It is highly praised by Job scholars (Clines, Janzen, Habel) and the Review of Biblical Literature, all of whose reviews are on the website. The author is an evangelical Christian, denominationally Anglican. He is also the Canadian Director for the Mortimer J. Adler Centre for the Study of the Great Ideas, a Chicago-based think tank.

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  3. Hi Candace,
    The physical creation was not “initially designed to last forever.” God (who knows the future perfectly) knew before he created this world that he would destroy it after a certain period of time and create a new world. Only Open Theists who believe that God cannot know events of the future, would agree that this world we are now on was supposed to last forever,

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