Why does a loving God allow catastrophes?

Question

If God is Love and if He has infinite power, then why doesn’t He intervene to stop horrible things from happening to innocent people, like terrorist attacks, or the damage to New Orleans and many thousands of lives caused by Hurricane Katrina, or the more recent earthquakes and tsunami in Japan, or the tragic “joker” shootings in Colorado?

Answer

This is such a difficult question to answer, especially in a column of limited length. As I try to make sense out of events like this one, where so many innocent people have been killed, several things come to mind. First, I do not believe such events must mean that either God is uncaring, or that He is powerless to do anything to stop them. The God who created the heavens and the earth is certainly powerful enough to intervene in His creation at any time. And the God who identifies with the least and the last and the lost is certainly not unloving. Romans 5:8 tells us that “God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

Second, God has given us an extraordinary gift, in addition to the gift of life: He has given us a free will. I once asked a group of students at a university forum, “How many of you would sacrifice your free will, and the free wills of every other human being, if it meant that in so doing, there would be no suffering or evil in the world?” No hands went up that I saw. How many people planning to be married would rather marry a robot than a real human being? Not many. See, the truth is, it’s free will that makes possible meaningful and satisfying relationships, between ourselves and God, and between ourselves and other people. But it’s also true that free will can be used for evil and destruction. God has and does intervene at times, to prevent tragedies, and most of us can think of times when He has spared us from some serious calamity. But often God does not intervene. He warned Cain (the one in the Bible) to get mastery over the jealousy and malice in his heart toward his brother Abel, but he didn’t intervene to stop Cain from killing his brother. God didn’t even intervene to stop the Romans from crucifying Jesus, His Son. Why not?

Third, God does not always intervene to stop evil, but He has demonstrated His sovereign control and goodness in another way. The key that helps me most is to look at the life of Jesus Christ. Christ was the incarnation of love, goodness, truth. The human race exercised its free will in an evil way. We rejected Christ and murdered Him. God allowed that to happen -- He did not violate our free will. But look at what He did next. First, He accepted His Son’s death as the basis of forgiving the sins of the entire human race. In other words, God’s holy judgment against sin (and most of us recognize we fall short, make mistakes, misuse the free will God gave us) was focused against His own Son, Jesus Christ, rather than on us. Jesus took the rap for us. And not only that, God didn’t stop there. He also raised His Son from the dead. Christ is alive, and He offers us the assurance through His resurrection that this life is not the end of the story. There is an eternal existence after this one where God will make all things right. Justice will be served. The scales will be balanced. There’s good news for all who trust in Him!

Finally, Jesus told us that prior to His return, things would get increasingly stressful. In Matthew 24, He taught that wickedness would increase, that there would be wars, famines, and earthquakes. But He said, “See to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen” (24:6 NIV). “All these are the beginning of birth pains” (24:8). The apostle Paul uses similar language in Romans 8:22 (see 8:18-23,31-39). It’s as if there is a cosmic spiritual battle; the battle will intensify into something like labor pains, resulting in our delivery into the new life of the fully consummated kingdom of God. Evil will be destroyed. The Bible tells us:

“Look, the home of God is now among His people... He will remove all their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever. And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making all things new!”
—Revelation 21:3-5

Something to look forward to!

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