By John W. Loftus
People in Biblical times defended God against the problem of evil by blaming themselves and their own sins for the natural disasters that God sent on them. They believed God controls all natural happenings (Ex. 12:23,29,30; 32:35; Num. 11:33; 16:46-50; 25:18; 2 Sam. 24:15-16). Why don’t very many Christians today use this same response to exonerate God for natural disasters? In ancient times, disasters were usually explained in only one way: God was upset with people because of their sins. And that’s the explanation we find most often in the Bible, although there are a few notable exceptions (Job; Luke 13; John 9). But even here we see a God who could do anything with the world of nature that he wanted to do without regard for the ordered world and laws of nature.
In Job for instance, we see the Biblical answer for the problem of evil in the first two chapters. The answer was that God is testing us with disasters and he allows Satan to do us harm so that he might be glorified from our actions. That is a sick answer to the problem of evil, and here’s why: Medical ethics will not allow us to experiment on human beings with life threatening procedures, nor with procedures that might cause other serious complications. And they certainly don’t allow us to experiment on anyone involuntarily. But this is what we find God doing to Job, presumably because he’s God.
In Luke 13:1-5 we find Jesus commenting on why a couple of disasters took place. Were these people worse sinners than those who escaped the particular disasters? Jesus’ answer is an emphatic, “No!” His point says nothing at all against the culturally accepted view that our sins cause disasters. He only says that these people were no more guilty than those who didn’t suffer these disasters. So apparently everyone deserves the disasters that occur, it’s just that some do not experience what their sins deserve.
In John 9 Jesus’ disciples asked him who sinned that a particular man was born blind. His answer was that neither he nor his parents sinned. But even so, his being born blind still had a purpose, “that the work of God might be displayed in him,” and then it says Jesus healed him. So his “purpose” in being born blind was for him to later be healed by Jesus.
Many Christians would agree with Rabbi Daniel Lapin who tried to explain God’s goodness in light the Indonesian tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people. In the process of arguing his case he said: “God runs this world with as little supernatural interference as possible.” Now how does he know that? Such a belief was not shared by most all ancient people before the rise of the repeatable results of modern science. So why don’t they argue the way Biblical writers would argue? Let me suggest that it’s because they are modern people after all! And let me also suggest that early Christians would have condemned modern Christians who simply say, “bad things just happen.” For them, even the very dice cast from a man’s hand is controlled by God. (Pr. 16:33).
But surely, the punishment for sin by God cannot account for everyone who ever died from a tornado, a hurricane, a fire, a flood, an epidemic, or a famine. Many innocent people have died. The distribution of disease and pain is not related to the virtue of those punished. Besides, I simply cannot understand that even if many people today are sexually immoral, for instance, that such sins deserve such punishments. Can you hear God saying this: “Oh, you had an affair, so your punishment is to lose your children as a result of Katrina.” What did these children do wrong? “Or, you are a homosexual, so I will make you a paraplegic the rest of your life, and later cast you into hell.” And so on. The so-called punishments simply do not fit the “crimes.” Just look at our own “selfish” system of punishments, and compare that with the kind, caring father/God’s punishments. Our punishments are kinder and gentler. They’re civil. The punishments of God in the Bible are barbaric.