QUESTION: How can we explain the “natural” disasters that plague this world, such as the Moore (OK) tornado? Why would an all-loving and all-powerful Creator make a world like this?

ANSWER: Whenever a tragedy (like the Moore tornado) occurs, these sorts of questions will naturally arise. If God is an all-loving and all-powerful Creator, how can things like this happen? Why would God make a world like this—one with tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, droughts, floods, and hurricanes that cause massive property loss and many human deaths?

The answer to this question lies in the key phrase: “a world like this.” The common assumption is that this world—the one that is our present home—is the one God made “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:1). This, however, is not the case. This world, this physical universe in which we now live, is not the same world that God originally created. Not only that—it is not the same world that will be our future, eternal home.

In the beginning God created a universe of beauty and harmony, a universe designed to support and maintain a race of mortal yet undying human beings. Our relationship with the world was one of peaceable accord and cooperation. There was a condition, however: the continuation of this ideal arrangement depended (by God’s plan) on mankind’s responsible use of their God-given free will.

We do not know all the details of this primary stage of the universe. We do not know how basic forces such as climate, winds, precipitation, and seasons were controlled. We know that none of these phenomena would have posed a threat to human existence, but we do not know how all of them operated in the beginning (compared with the way they operate now).

What we do know is that serious negative changes in the natural universe occurred when the first human beings (Eve and Adam) used their gift of free will to sin against the Creator (Gen. 3:1ff.). Genesis 3 itself describes three of these changes: pain in childbirth for women, making a living through toilsome effort, and physical human death.

The second of these indicates that the curse was not limited to the bodies of human beings, but extended to the physical universe as a whole: “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen. 3:17). It is as if the canker of sin and the tentacles of the divine curse penetrated and permeated the entire creation, altering and disrupting its original harmony. We do not know the details of this devastation, but Romans 8:19-22 affirms it:

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

The result of the primal sin and its consequences is that the world we live in today is simply not the paradise-like universe God made for human beings in the beginning. It does not always cooperate with us, but in many ways fights against us. To be sure, the world still declares the glory of God (Psalm 19:1); it still provides wonderfully for our needs (Matt. 5:45; 6:33; 1 Tim. 6:17); and we are still able to “subdue it” (Gen. 1:28)—up to a point. But sometimes, more often than we would like, the cosmic curse rears its ugly head in the form of tornadoes and hurricanes and tsunamis, and reminds us not only that we are mortal beings but also that we are a sinful race.

Where, then, is the goodness of God in all of this? We have already seen two forms of it: the original innocent and bountiful nature of the pre-sin universe, and the bounty and beauty of the present cosmos (Acts 14:17; James 1:17) that still filter down to us through the darkness and deformity of this fallen world.

But regarding this divine love and goodness, there is more—much more! Yes, the original glorious version of the universe no longer exists. Yes, the one we call “home” is full of suffering and futility and corruption. But the deal is this: there is yet to come a third version of this “visible universe” (Col. 1:16), this “heavens and earth”—a perfect and incorruptible form of the physical cosmos that will be the eternal home of the redeemed family of God!

This is the glorious hope with which Paul is comforting us in Romans 8:18-23. He sums it up in verse 18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” This is when the cosmos will be “set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). Having experienced “the redemption of our body” (v. 23), and being clothed with an imperishable body of glory and power (1 Cor. 15:42-43), we will be free to roam about and probe into “the new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13; see Rev. 21:1ff.). This will be the Phoenix-like universe that will arise out of the ashes of the final holocaust that will bring this present universe to an end (2 Peter 3:10-12).

To be sure, in this present world there is much pain and grief, and plenty of tears and sorrows. The tornadoes and floods and droughts will still come. But in anticipation of that promised new age and that coming new world, we can cry out with Paul, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? . . . but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

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A WORLD LIKE THIS — 5 Comments

  1. Thank you Dr. Cottrell for your insight, reminds me of the old hymn ” This world is not my home.” Blaming God started back in the third chapter of Genesis and continues on too this day.

  2. Dr. Cottrell, thanks for you post on this topic. As a Christ-follower, your explanation is encouraging and helpful. I have a question though, that is related, but needs a slightly different answer…

    My wife has a professor who is an atheist [read: outspoken and sometimes condescending] and used the logic “If God is loving, why did he let this happen?”, “If God is all knowing, why didn’t he do something to prevent it since he knew it was coming?”, and “If God is all powerful, why didn’t he stop it?” Concluding that God can only have, at most, two of those characteristics otherwise the tornado wouldn’t have happened.

    My question is, how should one respond to this? I’m sure there is something that he is assuming in his logic that I’m not picking up on, and he also obviously assuming that his thinking/knowledge is how God is thinking. But as my wife and I talked through it, I couldn’t come to the conclusion that I felt was a proper response to his comments.

    Thanks for your help!

    • The answer to this kind of question ultimately begins with God’s decision to create a world with free-will beings. Because God is sovereign, we must accept the fact that he did not have to create such beings, but wanted to do so and thus made the decision to do so. Because God is omniscient, we must also accept the fact that he knew all the possible variables that could come into existence as the result of free-will choices. Because God is totally self-consistent, we must also conclude that once he has made his decision to make such beings, he will allow them to use their free will even if the resulting choices are evil and result in evil. Otherwise the whole point of making free-will beings would be self-contradictory. This applies to the situation I discussed in my essay, i.e., that fact that this world includes many “natural” evils as the result of Adam’s fall. This presupposes the making of Adam and Eve with free will, and allowing them to choose between good and evil even if they opted for the latter. This same pattern of reasoning would apply to any question with the form, “Why did God allow this evil thing to happen?” The question that is most difficult is this: why did God choose to make free-will beings in the first place, knowing the possible outcomes? What is so important about free will that God was willing to risk the rise of countless tragic situations? The answer, I think, may seem contradictory; but I believe the answer is love. Without free will, there could be no love. Only creatures with free will could choose to love their Creator with a true love. This is apparently the highest priority for God; see, for example, Jesus’ teaching that our love for God is what God wants from us more than anything else (Matthew 22:37-38). My original book on What the Bible Says About God the Ruler has a chapter on “The Problem of Evil,” in which I discuss this whole issue. Therein I say, “If man is to have the ability freely to choose to love God, he must also be given the capacity to choose to hate and reject God. Thus in a sense the creation of free-will beings entailed a risk. But God was willing to risk the free choice of evil in order to have freely-chosen love and worship” (p. 398).

  3. Thank you, Jack, for writing this. I needed this today. So sorry for the loss of life and destruction in Oklahoma City.

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