Worldviews and natural disasters


Second of two parts

When the president of Turkey surveyed the wreckage of an earthquake in his country, one elderly woman wearing a black dress and covered with dust ran past security guards and demanded, “President! President! My family is gone! Why? Why?”

When a terrible disaster strikes here in our country, many also feel the urge to ask the same, but they never get to ask President Aquino because he is usually not around. He does not go to the scenes of devastation, least of all to the wakes of people he does not know.

Why? Why? The answers vary depending on one’s worldview, faith or lack of one.

Chance, karma, kismet, global warming

The nonreligious say disasters arise out of chance or bad luck. They happen without rhyme or reason.

In modern law, courts denote certain events as acts of God — like tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons and floods.

The encyclopedia of American law defines an act of God as “a natural catastrophe which no one can prevent such as an earthquake, a tidal wave, a volcanic eruption, or a tornado.” Acts of God are significant for two reasons: 1) for the havoc and damage they wreak, and 2) because often contracts state that “acts of God” are an excuse for delay or failure to fulfill a commitment or to complete a construction project.

A more contemporary and hotly disputed explanation for disasters like typhoons and hurricanes is that they are the result of global warming, aka climate change. Climate alarmists blame carbon emissions which, they say, are raising the temperature of the earth, leading to the rise of sea levels. But there has been no global warming  over the past 17 years. The United Nations intergovermental panel for Climate change (UNPCC) has not produced any proof of global warming.

Religious perspectives

Religious worldviews are more interesting and fascinating
Hindus  believe that disasters are the result of karma, payback for evil committed in previous lives. Karma is individual, not collective, but the cumulative karma of half a million individuals could perhaps send a typhoon careening toward a city or a province.

Muslims believe in kismet, the Turkish word for fate or destiny. When disaster strikes, it is fated.

Animistic and polytheistic religions offer another explanation; the people of a stricken place may have in some way brought curses on themselves from powerful gods. Perhaps a construction project irritated a river god or something, and perhaps attempts to construct hurricane-proof houses and buildings upset the god of the winds.

Christianity’s view  

In Christianity, disasters result not from chance, karma or curses, but from God’s mysterious providence, which no one ever understands fully.
The Bible says God ordains everything that happens, but it also says we are responsible for our actions. Christians have many ways to handle this. It matters to them that for God all times are the present. He knows and ordains past and future, while we know only a little about the past and nothing about the future.

We are actors without a script, deciding moment by moment from our subjective perspective the direction of the play, even if from God’s perspective it is already objectively decided.  We freely decide, choosing from moment to moment what to say and how to act.

Many Christians find the idea that God is in charge, a cheerful one. G. K. Chesterton wrote that the doctrine of original sin is cheering because within it, suffering, failure, and inadequacy arise – neither from blind chance nor necessarily as a part of punishment, but as the common lot of humanity.

What makes all this work is the experience of Christ, who knew what it was to be unjustly tortured and abandoned, to endure overwhelming loss, and to be crucified.

In the Christian allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the central figure, Christian, regularly had grief followed by relief, and that seems to be often what God ordains.

Like the hero, Christians learn that if we expect life to go smoothly, we will spend much of it discontented, and we won’t come to understand God’s mercy.

What’s difficult to accept is that the road to contentment runs through misery. Christ came to earth not only to die but also to live amid rejection. His horribly painful death took several hours. It was terrible, physically, and psychologically, because of the rejections he experienced, rejections by friends, by community, by local religious leaders, by national religious leaders. Those were all means to the glorious end.

Analogously, we Christians are thankful for the difficulties that energize us, and also for all the days when no disaster occurs.

With everything that can go wrong in the world, with typhoons each year filling the letters of the alphabet, it’s worth noting not only that a bullet like Yolanda/Haiyan hit us, but also that other bullets missed and that Ruby was not so lethal.

Christianity bids us to approach disaster in a spirit of gratitude and understanding of God’s mercy.

Why should we assume good weather and good health? Why not be thankful instead for days of clear skies or gentle rains. Why think that the relatively few days of disaster are proof of either atheism or divine malevolence? Why not be thankful that God, as described at the end of the book of Jonah, is “a gracious god, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”

I’m not worried, I’m just waiting

In its coverage of hurricane Katrina in new Orleans, the Washington Post profiled a 72-year-old man,  who was among the victims.  He had just become a widower, and he had to leave New Orleans.

He faced a future with no security. But he looked at the future with greater faith. He professed:

“Jesus said you’re going to have trials and tribulations. I’m not worried. I’m just waiting. I just put it in Jesus’s hands.”

It will take time before long-term improvement in his material circumstances becomes evident, if it does. But his serenity while others screamed already paid spiritual benefits.



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  1. How can a loving, powerful, and all-knowing God allow his children to suffer? This is an age-old question that continues to defy a satisfactory answer. To many it is a source of anger and despair because we cannot figure out why would God refuse to act when in an instant with just a snap of his finger, He can prevent any tragedy from happening? Often the first casualty of any tragedy is one’s faith in God. That is unfortunate but a sad reality and a feeling of abandonment brews and stews vigorously . However, one should not feel guilty about it because even the saintliest among us has said something that they wish they could take back. In fact, Jesus himself cried bitterly, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Although, he also voiced, “not my will but yours be done”, his previous lament of despair should not be reckoned as inauthentic sound of despair. To view it as some romantic God-talk is to discount his humanity a central tenet in Christianity. For others, they have come to accept the fact that life tends to ebb and flow. This seems to be the thesis of your article namely, God is sovereign and humans are accountable. But I have to reason that a certain level of maturity needs to be acquired before this kind of a world-view intertwines in a person’s response to life’s challenges. It takes experience and wisdom to accept paradoxes. Pain and pleasure coexist. So as someone said when bad luck seems to chase you incessantly it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Tragic events can confuse and disorient us. It is just the proverbial fog of war. Panic and missteps are bound to ensue. Be gentle with yourself. Also as you creep in towards recovery often slogans and even silly statements such as, what does not kill me only makes me stronger, can usher in some ray of hope. But the more helpful counsel, I have to agree is your advise, live a life of gratitude even the midst of crisis. Therefore, let’s count our blessings.

  2. Mas nakakaalam at mabuti ka pa sa maraming pari,sa pagpapaliwanag pagtungkol sa dios!
    Pero itong mga pari araw-araw hawak ang bible at nakasulat doon na kaya sinasalot ang tao ng dios dahil sa patuloy at patuloy na pagsamba sa idolo imbes na direkta sa kanya gusto pa nang maraming stop over-di na malaman ng naniniwala sa kanila kung sino-sinong santo ang tinatawagan ngayon ang iniuutos lang ay sambahin siya sa pangalan dito sa lupa at sa langit!
    Pinahihirapan at pinagagastos ang ang mga taong naniwala sa kanila!
    Dapay lang nasalutin ang mga tao nang-iinsulto sa utos ng dios!

  3. It is good that you write,”The Bible says God ordains everything that happens, but it also says we are responsible for our actions.” It means human responsibility is compatible with divine predestination. Though events are predestined by God, human beings are responsible for their evil deeds. Like what happened to Judas.

  4. Sir Yen,
    Your article is enlightening – and touching! I am not a religious person, but every night before bed, I do thank God for the gift of life, for the graces, and blessings, and the pain of living life itself; I always pray to HIM to protect me, my family and relatives, friends and people from bad elements.I usually end my prayer this way: ” Dear God, save those people-whoever they are, wherever they are – who need your miracle.Amen”