Why does God Allow Earthquakes?

14/01/10 | Posted by Poppy

The earthquake in Haiti this week has injured, made homeless or killed up to three million people according to early news reports. How can God allow this to happen?

 Earthquake zone?

Pictures on the news are harrowing. Buildings have just collapsed into dust. Some schools and hotels are leaning at incredible angles and even the UN building which you would expect to be well constructed has suffered major damage. What is obvious from looking at the pictures is that there are no emergency services and the inhabitants of Haiti are having to rescue themselves. The UN peacekeepers are dealing with their own crisis as their buildings have been struck and personnel killed.

So why does God allow earthquakes and other natural disasters to happen?

This is one of those very difficult questions that tax not just ordinary people. It is a question that great minds in philosophy and theology schools give serious attention to. And to be honest I’ve never had a real sense of a satisfactory answer. I have only hoped that it will all become clear one day.

Over Christmas I saw a repeat of a programme by Mark Dowd on the Boxing Day Tsunami. If you are quick you can see it online here and it really got me thinking. There were some scientists who were interviewed for the programme who made the link between plate tectonics and how the earth looks today. I had never thought about it but were the earth a solid mass then erosion of wind and rain and water over millions and millions of years would leave the earth as just a shallow sea or at best a marshy landscape.

Our earth isn’t solid, it is a ball of molten rock with land on top that looks a bit like the skin on top of custard! This skin moves as there is heat underneath - unlike custard - but it means that as the edges or plates rub up against each other new land is created. The other side effect of all this movement is that the land crumples and mountains are pushed up out of the oceans. Apparently this is how the Himalayas were formed. Over millions of years new land is created which is eroded again. Our earth is dynamic and always moving, creating new habitats for animals and plants. The downside of all this movement is that as the plates rub against each other the release of pressure isn’t constant and it is the sudden shifting of plates that have been under pressure that causes earthquakes and tsunamis and the disasters to human populations who are living in those areas. Why the Haiti earthquake has been so devastating is partly down to geography and the fact that the particular stress point under Haiti hadn’t moved for 250 years and was shallow which is apparently makes earthquakes very strong.

If you believe that God had a hand in creating the world, then for the world to be as we experience it, with its mountains and seas, there will be earthquakes and tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

But are those natural disasters of themselves bad? The most damage in these sorts of events seems to be done to those who are poorest. To the people living in the shanty towns and in poorly constructed dwellings. People don’t live in dangerous places unless they have to and the poorest end up in those marginal areas that the more affluent can avoid. So there is an issue of social justice here. Jesus was known in his time for spending time with the poor and marginal, with those that society didn’t regard as important. That seems like a good example to follow.

Earthquakes happen, but it is up to governments and aid agencies to make sure that people living in those areas have good housing and that there are warning systems in place. People can help people rather than expecting God to intervene to keep everyone safe.

So I suppose a small part of the answer to my origional question is that God allows earthquakes as that is how a dynamic world is. Not living in earthquake zones would be sensible but if people have to then having buildings that are designed to withstand earthquakes would be a good start. This seems to be the responsibility of governments and aid agencies.

What can we do to help? If you want to give money to the appeal to help the victims of the earthquake there are lots of ways to do so. This link will take you to the Christian Aid Appeal

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It is so sad when something happens that brings such death and turmoil into our lives for others, but also ourselves.
Rightly, or wrongly, I never for a minute believe that God has a hand in any catastrophe, nor that He does not wish to prevent it.
I believe in our despair, large or smaill, He weeps with us.
I think of when the world began -imagine God wanting his people to have their own minds,follow their own path.
I guess, for now,God has given us the world to look after, live in.. and some day,, when the time is right - all weeping, terrors
and deaths will end.. and one day, there will be peace.

#1. By H on January 16, 2010

In a way, with the earthquake epicentre in the most deprived country in the world, God is focussing our attention on the needs of these people.  And, with the aid that is being poured in to Haiti, in the end, the poor should have better living vconditions.  MAybe this earthquake is a wake up call to the wealthy compalcent nations, Christain and other faiths of this world.

#2. By alemap1066 on January 17, 2010

God warned us that earthquakes would increase just before he returns the birth pians of the earth but i do know that all things work together for good and when i was in sierra leone just after the war ended thier was great poverty it is still worse place to live in than haiti but out of the war there came an awakening and 10,000s of muslims have become christians the churches that are evangelical r growing so fast the problem before was that thier were large numbers of the population involved in devil worship and that left Gods hand not upon that country but all things God works for good and now there is great hope in sierra l;eone haiti out of this will turn from vodooas 70%  hacve some practises in this and they will turn to JEsus instead and bring his hand upon them then they will prosper spiritually and physically

#3. By fred parkinson on January 18, 2010

Thank you for a very thought provoking article that has been most helpful

#4. By V on January 21, 2010

I’m not sure if this is correct but I think it’s logical.

As Christians we believe the reality in which we live is the choice of God but is God’s choice entirely free?

Could God have created a universe where the natural world is less beastly?

As we’ve seen our freedom depends on our world being sufficiently self-sustaining for us to live in it without God’s intervention.

That’s not to say it is independent of God, as theists, we believe the entire created order depends on the will of God. As it says in John’s Gospel, God spoke and the physical order came into being. Through some means the material was generated from the spiritual by the will of God, by His command.

Similarly we believe the material realm remains dependent on His will and in the absence of His will it would cease to be. So God is an eternal sustainer rather than occasional tinkerer.


#5. By Nathan on January 23, 2010


Could less freedom though be enough for us to choose God in love? I think so. We saw in Genesis that Adam and Eve were created to live in relationship with God but chose separation from Him, prior to which God had effectively provided for their every need. Post-fall, Adam and Eve received their independence. At that point they were removed from the garden and had to live in this world, effectively their freedom increased.

Now, God clearly knew Adam and Eve would make that choice being unconstrained in His perception of time. We can thus conclude God had to create a world that would tolerate the independence His creations would demand.

We saw in Eden a type of reality that would tolerate sufficient freedom for people to choose God but which was free of the suffering we recognise in our world. Consequently we can say the suffering we see in this world is the product of our rebellion; ultimately we constrained God’s hand in creation, we are the progenitors of our misery.

#6. By Nath on January 23, 2010

God DOESN’T allow things to happen. SATAN does, he is the ruler of this world until CHRIST JESUS comes back.

#7. By Lee Smith on January 26, 2010

I learnt that God’s animation is very old, literally full of inertia from a great deal of original effort; evidence of creation holding together most often in the way it was designed, or a cut thereof.

    You can see any of it break. People can measure almost any force that God ever used to maintain creation and we need to respect those amazing forces. We can only blame ourselves.

  Rather, we can prepare ourselves for everything he has shown us. We can use the hands and minds he gave us to use, inwardly as a goal or outwardly as action.  The more we do and learn from the rescue of Haiti, the more we might understand the geological, biological and sociological forces He’s ever used or had to contend.  Same for us, His friends and His children.

  Whether it is our plants and animals in terms of the tiny engines He gave them, or the mysterious drivers of politics, or the earth underneath our feet. Perhaps there only is a narrow gate of understanding and opportunity.

#8. By Jeff Butler on January 28, 2010

Nathan you got it partially right. The entire earthly realm depends on GOD’s will to exist. But if we have any less freedom to choose or reject GOD then the choice ceases to be ours and becomes GOD’s. It is an example of GOD’s extremely great love that HE allows us that freedom. It was that great love that removed Adam and Eve from the garden so that they could not take of the tree of life and thus be condemned to eternity in that state. GOD knew before time began that man would reject HIM. HE knew of the Holocaust, Sierra Leone and all of the grief that we all experience on a daily basis. And HE knew that HE would provide the path of redemption.


#9. By Ken on February 07, 2010

In the book of JOB Stan had to ask GOD’s permission before he could do the things that he did to Job, but GOD did allow it. the simple truth is that bad things happen to good and bad people. It is simply the result of a sinful and fallen world that GOD allows to continue until HE determines it is truly finished. I don’t think we can ever really know why GOD allows the things HE does, but we can know that HE loves and cherishes us and desires to have a heart to heart, soul to soul relationship with us based on our faith in HIM. I do know that when we go to be with HIM after this life, all will be as it was supposed to be before we rebelled and rejected GOD.

#10. By Ken on February 07, 2010




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