‘What does the mainstream church believe about natural disasters today?’


In a previous post, I outlined how the Lisbon Earthquake of 1795 rocked the Church’s understanding about God. The rise of enlightenment across Europe with its appeal to a more rational understanding of the Divine, resulted in German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher attempting to reconcile the God found in Nature with a God understood through reason and rationality. The only problem being that in the wake of Lisbon and its 60,000+ deaths, the God who controlled Nature also appeared wanton and destructive.

Voltaire’s ridicule of why Lisbon should be singled out by God when other cities in Europe more notoriously decadent were allowed to survive is a reasonable question to ask. A question which deserves better answers than those provided by believers who have sometimes tried to explain these events in terms of the sovereignty of God, or an issue of faith, or as a Divine mystery. Interestingly, when survivors of the 2004 tsunami were asked to talk about their experience, few of them considered God responsible for the disaster. The reason being that today we live in a secular age where most people do not think such a thing possible or likely of God. However, when people were asked a different question about whether God should have intervened, a good number considered that the Divine was powerless to act in such a situation.

From this, it seems that God is no longer considered the arbiter of natural disasters but rather impotent or not powerful enough to intervene. All of which brings us back to what was hinted at in the first post that whether we like it or not, humans inhabit a world in which nature is at times ‘red in tooth and claw’ (Lord Alfred Tennyson). That said, on the upside, it is also a world in which people are able to make self-determining choices, enabling them to grow and develop with all the risks and challenges this brings.