While the world has been focused on the horrors of the Israel-Hamas war, there has simultaneously been catastrophe in Afghanistan. This terror being orchestrated by massive earthquakes which have killed more than 2,000 people. Such a natural tragedy prompted me to ask a broader question on natural disasters: why do innocent people die?
This inquiry is one that has prompted a debate among Christians, who have spent thousands of years developing new reasons as to why their almighty and good God could allow such natural evil in the world. The Bible acknowledges God’s overarching power over Earth multiple times; sometimes even put plainly in passages such as Proverbs 103:19: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”
The initial premise that God controls our world is hardly contested by Christians, so why does God allow great evils in this world? It must be mentioned that God has provided us free will to commit any act of our choosing — this is why sin is possible. This is most prominently seen in the famous story of Adam and Eve. But if God has power over all beings, it must logically follow that God has power over our free will but chooses not to infiltrate it.
Thus, we cannot blame God for man-made tragedy, as it was done at their own will, exclusive of God’s input. This philosophy that has long preceded me, my beliefs on God’s input on humanity’s free will is basically a rewording of sections from St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica” where he writes "Man, however, is said to have free-will, because he has free judgment." Nonetheless, I still think it is first necessary to define what God does and does not have power over.
Natural disasters such as earthquakes are obviously not man-made, so it must be under God’s jurisdiction to create natural disasters. If this is the case, God has permitted, if not orchestrated himself, innocent, moral humans to be killed under his watch.
This is the utmost disgraceful, and I would go as far as to say it would deem God as evil. Renowned followers of God will say something along the lines that he “works in mysterious ways” or that these tragedies are a part of a bigger plan that we aren’t privy to yet. But as I see it, no greater plan has come about, and all that is left is grieving loved ones and pain struck in those that had to suffer such terrible tragedies such as natural disasters, cancer, etc.
But God’s cruelty should not be anything new to even the casual Bible reader. The Book of Job tells the tale of a pious man named Job, who was tortured by Satan at the permission of God so as for him to determine how loyal Job truly was to God. He lost all his money and land, was stricken with physical agony and disease, and God even permitted a windstorm to kill his children, all to see if Job would retain his loyalty towards God. Job maintained his loyalty, though I find this story to be more telling about the ethics of God more than Job.
Similarly, in the famous story typically called “The Binding of Isaac,” God commands Abraham, a deeply faithful follower of God, to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a sign of loyalty towards Him. Abraham is obligated to comply and binds Isaac to an alter before a messenger from God informs Abraham that this was merely a test of loyalty to God, and replaced Isaac’s sacrifice for that of a ram, to which Abraham kills the ram for God. While God did not ever genuinely plan on killing Isaac, he once again put one of his followers in the utmost evil predicament that, to any human, would mentally scar them to have been put in such a psychologically torturous situation.
While scholars such as Aquinas or St. Augustine of Hippo have acknowledged that some stories may be parables, there are still takeaways from these tales that followers of God must praise him even when he harms you directly. No ethical god would abuse their powers in such a way.
When self-proclaimed gods abuse such supreme power, they have historically been ridiculed for their evil doings. Take the case of deranged cult leader Jim Jones, who infamously forced his 900 followers to drink lethal “Kool-Aid” to prove their loyalty to Jones. Today’s society rejects Jones’s cynical commandment of mass-murder for the sake of devotion, but I rarely hear of such criticism towards God for committing acts that are just as psychologically agonizing.
[Related: OPINION: Friends come and friends go]
Thus, I must conclude one of two possibilities: it must be the case that either God does not have the power to control the natural tragedies that harm our world, which means he is not a genuine, all-powerful god, or the God that billions pray to is wicked, who plays cruel games to emphasize his own power. The claim that there is a moral God is purely a paradox.
Jacob Lubarsky (he/him) is a junior studying philosophy and political science with minors in psychology and Spanish.