Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

Your thoughts on God and natural disasters

Cathedral ruins in Haiti
Natural disasters may test faith in God

Why does God allow natural disasters? Philosopher David Bain examined this question in light of Haiti's deadly earthquake - and readers around the world responded thoughtfully.

Earlier this week the Magazine published an article asking Why does God allow natural disasters? It prompted a huge response from readers, with more than 4,000 emails sent in. Here are just some.

Tsunamis and earthquakes are hazards attached to living on a rather large spinning ball of molten magma and iron. It is unlikely that a universe could be created that lacks hazards to its denizens, and so we need a good God to protect us from those hazards. But really, we only want God's help when it suits us, the rest of the time we prefer to tell him to leave us alone and then we wonder why he does.
Matt Parkins, York, UK

To me it seems that Bain's comments reflect a puppet master's version of the world: That God is in there controlling every minute detail of every second of our day. But when I read the creation account in Genesis, I see God giving stewardship of this earth and our lives to us. And even though t's not popular to mention, there's a third player in all of this: an agent for evil who wants to "kill, steal and destroy", according to the Bible. Perhaps the "blame" of natural disasters is a bit more complex than blaming it on the Creator who originally handed us a perfect creation that is now corrupted from its original beauty.
Kim, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Most religions clearly see life as a test. Natural disasters are clearly part of this test. Why does anything have to be fair? Religious texts largely promise "reward" for good behaviour in this life, but only in the next one.
Richard Clements, Bristol, UK

After thousands of years theologians still cannot come to any real agreement on these fundamental issues and there certainly isn't any official line on such issues from any major monotheistic religion. The only conclusion you can come to is that we do not understand God. Alternatively, in much less time, various scholars from many different cultures have developed a framework that explains far more than any religion has been capable of and we call it science. Science explains natural disasters and why people are nasty to each other. Why not focus on the things we can explain and try to improve our understanding of those rather than waste our time on a problem that we haven't solved in over 2000 years and it doesn't look like we are ever going to get any new information to help us in that task.
Adrian, Basingstoke, UK

Surely there is more method to this madness than meets the eye. We get earthquakes when the earth moves. Tsunamis, too. There is scientific explanation for all of this. As to why it moves, well why not? Would there be not greater catastrophe if it did not? It is tragic when people die, but die we all must.
Kay Aar, Pakistan

As a believer I respect the difficulty that non-believers have with the problem of suffering. In trying to address it, there is always the danger of sounding trite: appearing to minimise what for those involved is awful and real. But to believe in God it is necessary to believe in one with far greater capability than ourselves of making judgements. We assess the suffering that follows a tragedy from our own perspective, not aware of the "big picture" to which God might be privy. Whatever we perceive as defects in the world might look like valid means to an end if seen holistically.
Michael Rowley, Jacksonville, FL, USA

How self-centred to blame God for something that doesn't suit human requirements or causes pain to the human, as if the entire vast universe we live in should suit our needs only. Part of the brilliance of consciousness is that we can learn from and work with nature, overcome difficulties, hardship etc. The evil of Haiti is the history of plunder, torture, slavery and exploitation that prevented humans having the facilities needed to live in a place subject to severe tectonic movement.
Anon, Llandysul, Wales

A rosary
During tragedy, people often turn to a higher power for strength

Isn't religion all about faith? It's good to question - it's natural in all of us. However, a lot of things can't be explained. We don't know what happens for sure when you die, but those with faith believe in heaven. We can understand the science behind natural disasters, but we can't understand how God would allow it. There is a lot we don't understand. Life itself is a miracle so maybe we need to have a little faith.
Yvonne Booth, London, UK

God gave the world to Adam and Eve and they were in control, yet they failed. They got the knowledge of good and evil and hence, sin entered into the world. The whole earth became cursed. Jesus came to redeem us and God will judge one day for all the evil that was done. Before that, humanity is in control and the earth is still cursed.
S. T. Law, Glasgow, Scotland

These earthquakes, or the chance victims of suicide attacks in my country, point to one thing: the pointlessness of this life. They are a hard knock on the front door of this world by God himself, perhaps to make us realise this world of ours has no walls, it is just in our minds and not worth living for in itself.
Ahmed Hassan, Pakistan

David Bain didn't mention any names for these "thoroughly good people". Feel free to let me know who they are. No Bible I've ever read has said that people are or can be thoroughly good. Humanity has spent its time telling God to get lost, yet complains when he doesn't do something. You can't have it both ways.
Gary Millar, Belfast, Antrim

The thing is, if god is all powerful and knowing, then when he created humans he would have known precisely which would be bad and also what they would do. So why do that? Why knowingly create the bad people who will kill some good people and cause many good people to suffer? Because he doesn't exist. Man needs to believe in god because the human brain can't cope very well believing that there really is no point to it all.
Ian Hughes, London

I think the Christian viewpoint is that God did create this "magical world" where nothing bad happens, i.e. the Garden of Eden. But then humanity chose knowledge of good and evil instead of an eternally good world. This is argued to be why earthquakes, volcanoes etc came to be, as a consequence of this choice. However the question remains: "Why does God allow this to happen now, leaving us to deal with the consequences of an event that supposedly happened at the dawn of time?" To my mind, God has to let the consequences of this choice stand. Otherwise what choice is there if there is no consequence?
Peter, London, UK

Our culture deals with death very badly, relatively. But without death there can be no joy of birth, there would be no room for it. If we are spirit we do not die anyway, it's only our bodies that die. A good Christian would progress to a glorious heaven. Why would an all-powerful deity want to prevent this wonderful outcome? We struggle most with untimely death, especially children's. But if we knew in advance our allotted time here on earth, how would that affect our development, our souls? Without any suffering would we know any joy? Would it have any meaning for us?
Mel Frame, Bangor, Wales

My view is that the Being Beyond Understanding's gift and challenge to us is evolution, not just of the body, but also of the soul. Evolution does not just happen, it requires an event to begin with. The more threatening the event, the more likely the evolution will start or continue. I hope that now with better and faster coverage of these natural disasters, people not directly involved will begin to have more empathy with those that are, will see how small the Earth is and how we are all a part of the same Being Beyond Understanding.
Colin Pickford, Southampton, UK

Haitians reach out for food
Some believe charity efforts demonstrate the existence of good

If there is a belief in a God then why not a belief in a devil? It seems that when a natural disaster happens people ask "Why didn't God stop this?". Not many people consider that the devil may have caused it.
Tom, St Austell, UK

According to Buddhism, everything is a result of karma - cause and effect. There is no escaping your karma, every action you do plants a seed which in this or future lives will ripen and you will suffer its effects. Buddha had purified all his karma and escaped the cycle of birth and death due to karma. His teachings try to show us how to do the same - he cannot stop the effects of karma and so cannot stop suffering, but by following his teachings eventually we ourselves can escape the cycle of birth and death and like him become enlightened. Enlightened beings can help others escape the cycle of life and death, but they are not miracle workers and cannot stop the cycle of life and death due to karma - it's up to each and every one of us to do it.
Simon, Herts, UK

With regard to natural disasters, I believe that God is just as distraught and upset as every right-thinking human being on this planet. God will help us through our problems and not over or around them.
Charlie, Dundee, UK

The concept of theodicy is not, in my opinion, a real problem for religion. If there is no bad or evil in the world, then how is one to recognise and appreciate good? If everything is good, then would we value that good in the same way we do now? Catastrophes such as this, although horrific, give ample opportunity for people all over the world to engage in kind, altruistic acts of charity.
Hassan, London, UK

I would like to say that even though Christianity has not come up with a sufficient answer to the problem of evil, nobody has. If nobody has provided a good answer to the badness of evil, then the next question should be "what is the best answer among the insufficient ones?" Christianity provides hope and redemption in the midst of suffering and evil - suffering is not pointless. The centre of Christianity is the fact that God did not isolate himself from suffering and evil but subjected himself to it in order to ultimately defeat it and save those suffering from it. The cross of Christ does not give answers to why evil, pain, suffering, and injustice exist, but for those who believe, it provides hope, redemption, justice and ultimately meaning to both evil and life in general.
Kevin Antlitz, Boston, MA, USA

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