Jamaica Consultation Theme Paper: Natural Disasters: Acts of God or Results of Human Folly?

This is a THEME PAPER ABSTRACT; the paper will be presented at the Jamaica Consultation on Creation Care and the Gospel in October, 2012.  Comments are welcomed!  View all abstracts.


We live in a world where the same natural processes that make it habitable can turn round and bite us, killing thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people at a stroke.  Natural disasters pull us up sharp and make us face head-on the hard questions of life and death.  For atheists and agnostics they challenge humankind’s hubris that we can control our environment ‒ or that our cleverness can keep us from suffering. For Christians they raise the hard question of why an all-powerful, all-loving God allows such things to happen. Natural disasters bring into sharp focus the relationship between the creator God, his creation and humans made ‘in his image’.

 Many natural processes such as floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are actually responsible for making this world a fruitful place. Without them it would be a barren, inhospitable planet. Yet so often human greed, selfishness, and unsustainable practices turn these natural processes into disasters. Famines and malnutrition, responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people in the last century are almost always a consequence of human actions. In almost all disasters it is predominantly the poor, the disadvantaged and the powerless who suffer most. Yet there are many, often simple steps that could be taken to prevent the worse consequences of natural disasters, and Christians should be in the vanguard of these both as part of their worship of God and as a practical way of loving their neighbour.


The Christian gospel is shot through with hope not just for the present but also for the future. In the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has defeated the powers of death and has inaugurated his restored rule over all of his creation. This provides a radically different perspective than the secular world can offer on the problem of natural disasters. In the face of a disaster, the secular world can only shake its head and say ‘we must do better next time’. That is not much comfort to the bereaved and suffering. And when the next time comes and is even worse, it leads to frustration, to disappointment and to despair.

The Christian perspective sees the reality of the brokenness of this world, but also the truth of God’s sovereignty over it and of his ultimate plans for a new creation. That does not mean that we need not strive to improve things now. Rather it points in the opposite direction, that we should work for better scientific understanding of disasters, that we should enable communities to build resilience against them, that we should strive to remove the unjust disparities in wealth and resources that mean it is so often the poor who suffer most. The gospel is radical in its challenge and promise of transformation and renewal that begins now and points us toward the future. It should centre our thinking on the cross and resurrection of Christ. The cross reminds us of the cruciform life to which we are now called; the resurrection confirms and displays to us God’s purposes for all of his creation