Natural Disasters: God or Nature?


Moshe Ben-Chaim



A close friend recently asked if I could offer a brief explanation as to whether we ought to view tsunamis and the abnormally many hurricanes as Divine punishments, or merely nature at work. I feel the explanation is within our grasp, and that this question is asked due only to our ignorance of God’s Divine justice, and not based on any evidence. Surely, minds like Einstein admittedly only “scratched the surface of natural law”, which is at least, an “observable” science. How then shall we – who are mindless when compared to Einstein – suggest that we know the more abstract, metaphysical laws of God’s justice, and make baseless claims that tsunamis and hurricanes are God’s punishments? We cannot explain astrophysics, and yet, we dare to explain the Creator of astrophysics?

There exist many areas of natural law. One of which is thermodynamics, including heat-induced expansion. Examples are erupting volcanoes and hot dogs plumping on the grill. We are convinced that natural laws are consistent, and we too should be consistent in our convictions. We grab aspirins for headaches on Tuesdays, just like on Sundays. Why? Because we experienced a phenomenon that worked, even though we cannot explain it. If we are consistent in all areas of our lives, why should we deviate, when catastrophes occur? Why don’t we relate to those events as causal relationships, like taking aspirin? True, tragically, many die in hurricanes, but this should not cause our denial of what we have learned: natural law is consistent. “Law”, by definition, refers to a repeated phenomenon, when circumstances are consistent. And when the Earth’s plates shift under the sea floor due to heat and expansion, the overlying water will also shift, due to laws of displacement, motion, and gravity. Waves are formed, and in magnitude, will forcefully push away lighter objects, including homes and people. This is all natural. And if we examine more deeply, we will learn that the Earth plates truthfully had no option but to shift when and where they did, based on all causes leading to that event. Similarly, it is impossible that I should toss a burning match onto a fuel-doused BBQ, and it should not ignite. It must ignite. So too, the tsunamis and hurricane recently endured had to occur. And since God told no one that He caused this directly, man is foolish to stand at his podium making claims of Divine punishment. Such claims only reveal another natural truth: man seeks to bolster his ego, if and when he can. And with the possibility of greater fame, he grabs quicker at such opportunities to get noticed for his “righteous” words. Again, man cannot explain how the universe was created, but his arrogance launches him to expound on even greater matters, like what God is thinking right now.

In truth, God created, and guides nature. For the world could not create itself…nothing can. The world can also not sustain itself according to created laws, without a Guide: the universe possesses no inherent power to keep itself going. In this sense, one might ask, “Aren’t natural disaster’s due to God?” The answer is “yes”…but not how you think. God did create the world with all the laws we experience, and He did know that in His creation, certain events would transpire. But if He did not create water and gravity, which causes tsunamis, man could not exist. So although at times these two elements collide causing tragedies, their absence would be far worse. But God did not doom mankind: He also equipped each of us with intelligence, with which we can decide where to live. So homes built on volcano slopes, or even California slopes, are not wisely inhabited, as mudslides are also not uncommon, and are devastating. Living in area subject to flooding is also unwise, and if we remain, and do not build adequate levees, again, our ignorance and foolishness is to blame, and we need not claim “Divine Punishment”. Of course, man cannot anticipate everything, but we are fully aware of all possible natural forces, and results.

 If God does wish man to take a lesson, we know from world history that He does so with miracles: Egypt’s Plagues, the predicted Flood, and other unnatural events and phenomena clearly point to God’s dissatisfaction. When God wishes us to fear Him, He does not allow us to view His signs as natural, but He sends signs and wonders that cannot be explained according to nature. When He desires we view an event as “His” Divine sign, he never confuses us with a possible natural to explanation.

Tsunamis and hurricanes are natural, and therefore we should not view them as Divine.