by Dr. Brad Strait, Lead Pastor at CCPC
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea… (Ps 46:1-2)
Have you ever seen the destruction of a natural disaster?
Walked through the aftermath of a tornado, a hurricane, a flood, or a massive hailstorm? Why would a good God allow the forces of nature to assault us?
In January of 2004, I worked with a medical crisis team along the south-eastern coast of India trying to respond to the most massive loss of human life in modern history. On December 26th, an undersea earthquake had shaken the floor of the India Ocean with the power of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs. The 9.1 magnitude quake occurred when thousands of years of pressure was released by the violent movement of the earth’s tectonic plates. The rupture was more than 600 miles long, moving trillions of tons of rock, and causing the largest magnitude earthquake in 40 years. As the rock surged upward, it displaced an unthinkable amount of water. This caused horrific tidal waves in 14 countries, including Sumatra, Burma, Indonesia, and India. 230,000 people died.
In those weeks, I worked long days alongside doctors and nurses who were trying to heal a broken population. Hundreds of Indian villages were destroyed, and thousands of people were tossed on the waves like Styrofoam cups. Broken bones, lacerations, and physical trauma were everywhere. Multiple sicknesses arose from the rampant flooding and landfill-like conditions.
But the damage was not only external. My specific job on the medical team was to do grief counseling, for almost every family had lost someone. Along this coastline, over 20,000 people had died. Most of them were children who could not fight the ocean’s fury. Those days I became more deeply acquainted with death, suffering, and grief than I thought possible. As a Christian, it was a defining point of my life. And it raised some difficult questions for me.
Why would a good God allow such destruction?
In their book, Rare Earth, Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee suggest that many specialized conditions are required for life to exist on any planet. In a sense, the authors—an eminent paleontologist and a top astronomer—discuss the “anthropic principle,” which specifies the degree to which our planet appears fine-tuned for complex life. The concept is often used in Christian apologetics to show that our intelligently designed universe seems to point to an Intelligent Designer.
So, Ward and Brownlee ask, “Why would an Intelligent Designer allow natural disasters such as earthquakes, seaquakes, and tsunamis to occur? All three are the consequence of plate tectonics, the giant plates that move under the surface of the earth and the ocean floor. Apparently our planet is unique in having plate tectonics. Ward and Brownlee show that without this geological feature, there would be no large mountain ranges or continents. “Without plate tectonics, the earth’s land would be submerged to a depth of several thousand feet. While natural disasters occasionally wreak havoc, our planet needs plate tectonics to produce the biodiversity that enables complex life to flourish on earth. Fish might survive in an underwater environment, but not humans. According to Ward and Brownlee, “Plate tectonics also help regulate the earth’s climate, preventing the onset of scorching or freezing temperatures that would make mammalian life impossible. In sum, plate tectonics are a necessary prerequisite to human survival on the only planet known to sustain life.” Another kind of world can be envisioned, but while such a world could have produced life, it surely could not have produced creatures like us. Science tells us that our world has all the necessary conditions for species like Homo sapiens to survive and endure. This includes tectonic plates and earthquakes.
God knows that a world without earthquakes is a world without people. Hmmm. It means he designed pain and struggle into the world for human lives to be complete. Wow. More on this tomorrow.
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