Making sense of disasters: Manmade or natural

Two major anniversaries are being observed in November

By Narayan Mitra

Kamloops This Week


Two major anniversaries are being observed this month on two different continents and with varied emotions.

The 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is a cause of major celebration in Germany, with songs and music by souls set free from separation and division.

On the other side of the world, the first anniversary of Super Typhoon Haiyan that hit the island nation of the Philippines, with much loss of lives and intense property damages, also falls in November.

It’s heartening to learn this week the Canadian government is fast-tracking family sponsorship of some of the victims of the typhoon, including orphans left behind, to settle down in Canada.

I wish I could distance myself from the accompanying questions raised by manmade or natural disasters on such gigantic scales affecting huge number of lives.

In some ways, it is easier for me to address human needs than to process such disasters, particularly natural ones, theologically — to find the reasons for mass suffering and death.

As the death toll mounted in the Philippines a year ago, questions gnawed at my soul: Why all of this meaningless madness of epic proportions?

It’s estimated the Berlin Wall accounted for 1,300 lives lost in pursuit of freedom.

Is God telling us something specific?

On one hand, I wish I knew a final and definite answer. But, that requires me to be God.

Barring such possibility, I can propose some tentative responses with scriptural and circumstantial warrants.

The causes for unexplainable natural disasters are complicated since the perpetrators seem invisible and their purposes incomprehensible (unlike manmade disasters, like uprooting of lives where we can identify someone or group to blame).

The Bible does speak about God’s judgment on sin through natural disasters.

The flood was directly related to human sin, as was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

God’s righteousness, in combination with his mercy and goodness, calls for judging sin with restraint.

The most radical event in the early history of the earth was humankind’s fall away from God.

The mother-of-all-disasters put earth under God’s curse, and humanity lost immediate existential relationship to him.

Earth is not heaven and, often, feels like hell — for it is groaning, grunting and growling in futility.

Our blue planet is still paying for mankind’s original departure from the Creator.

That fall feature comes close to the best biblical explanation for natural cataclysms.

Yet, the issue of death’s randomness remains.

Why do disasters seem so arbitrary and haphazard?

Why are ‘good’ people affected as much as ‘bad’ ones?

And why are some bad people spared?

The question of apparent randomness brings us to the demonic factor in executing natural disasters.

Whether directly or indirectly, we factor in Satan’s role in human suffering and death.

Satan defied God’s sovereignty, cast out of heaven to earth.

Our earth began to shudder and continues to tremble. That could explain why there are earthquakes, occurring almost daily.

Only when humans are present do complex natural phenomena — many of them observable to physicists — turn into disasters.

If no one died, we would have simply viewed it as natural, even normal, events.

Cataclysms only turn into catastrophes when humans are affected.

Nature is wobbly, infected and terrorized by Satan.

He has been thrown down from heaven in eternity and toppled on earth in history.

Natural disasters are not “acts of God,” as the insurance industry would describe them.

They could easily be “acts of Satan.”

We can underestimate Satan’s power, but anything he does is under the determinative control of God.

When God’s plans for this worn earth are done, the sovereign Creator will create the new earth, one totally attached to him.

But disasters, sadly, provoke mankind’s resistance and defiance of God.

Christians can function as watchmen warning people of future disaster and respectfully pleading for the apathetic to awaken and the defiant to become compliant to God’s terms for spiritual salvation (Ezekiel 33:1-6).

Added to that, on a temporal level at least, disasters bring out the best in compassion and community.

The whole world — united for search and rescue, recovery and aid, love and unity, relief and development — is fulfillment of God’s mission through human hands.

Christians, with their special obligation to love their neighbours and especially to do good to the household of faith (Galatians 6:10), ought to serve in the forefront of relief efforts with unselfish abandon and generosity.

* Narayan Mitra is a columnist for Kamloops This Week.