The problem of evil (also known as theodicy) is often considered the trickiest theological problem Christians have deliberated. As the Greek philosopher Epicurus put it:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
Throughout the ages, Christianity’s greatest thinkers have wrestled with the Epicurean dilemma. Christian orthodoxy claims God both all-powerful and the source of all love, but how can both be true when faced with leukemia and hurricanes, depression and famines, dashed hopes and earthquakes?
The Bible doesn’t make finding answers easy. The book of Job, the healing of Lazarus, and the words of Jesus alone point to partial answers that often raise more questions. Great (and less great) theologians, when faced with tragedy, provide drastically different answers. In light of Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma, pastors will undoubtedly be asked, or feel inclined to preach on, the question “why does God let disasters like this happen? Is this judgment?” Here are three common answers:
God did it to punish _________
On September 13, 2001, the since-deceased Jerry Falwell proclaimed on Pat Robertson’s television show that 9/11 happened because of “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America.” Falwell said their presence caused God “to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.” This isn’t an isolated example of Robertson’s show claiming something like this.
While people like Robertson have long been seen as representing a fringe of Christianity, more mainstream evangelicals like John Piper have made similar claims. In 2009, Piper claimed that a tornado that swept through downtown Minneapolis was God disrupting the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s vote on whether homosexuality invalidated someone from ministry.
This theological framework, most commonly lumped in with Reformed theology, leans heavily on the sovereignty of God to explain natural disasters. This thinking attempts to fit God’s love into the container of these disasters by saying “it’s actually very gracious of God to let this happen to warn us of a greater wrath to come.”
Piper has often referred to Luke 13 when Jesus discusses a recently collapsed tower by asking his audience “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”