"Such things have always happened. It’s part of destiny’s plan.” That was the alleged response of President Erdogan to the recent terrible earthquakes.
A natural rejoinder is to ask what kind of destiny it is that kills thousands in such a random manner?
Substitute the word ‘God’ for ‘destiny’, and the moral problem remains. Can one possibly believe in a God who, like destiny, inflicts such appalling cruelty?
One way to solve the problem is to say there is no God and therefore earthquakes and natural disasters are just the way the world is. We must live with it. There is no overarching moral question involved.
But there is a problem for people who believe in a Creator God who is also compassionate and just. How can such a God allow awful things to happen? But that raises another question about free will. If God intervened every time something terrible was about to happen, we would not be capable of any moral development. We could plan the most frightful things knowing that they would not happen because God would prevent them. That would leave us as automatons.
Of course, free will is not all good. It has some serious downsides. For instance, some of the original building contractors in the earthquake zone might have exercised their free will by ignoring regulations, thereby contributing to the appalling tragedy.
Is there then any philosophical solution to the moral problem of natural disasters?
One that begins to make sense (to me) is to say God, having created the world as it is, is willing to take upon himself the sorrows and horrors that necessarily result. In Jesus of Nazareth that is what we see happening. And so, when natural disasters occur, believers should respond with Christ-like compassion and action.
Is that an adequate answer?
By Bishop Christopher Herbert
Former Bishop of St Albans and vicar of The Bourne, near Farnham