Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is God Trying to Get our Attention with the Floods, Earthquakes, and Heat?

I was recently asked to write something about earthquakes and other natural disasters. What do they mean from a spiritual view point? Are they an indication of God's dissatisfaction with us? Or, are they just random occurrences due to the unguided forces of nature?

My first thought was to avoid this question. I sensed that my own personal views might be at odds with the teachings of the Church. Without thinking very deeply about this, I would fall in the camp of those who say they are just random unfortunate events. This is an easy way to explain them away and say they have no spiritual meaning. My deeper spirit pushed me on to find a better answer based on the teachings of the Church. After all, there are many such lessons in Scripture and everything we do has a spiritual meaning.

The Orthodox view begins with the belief that all happens with the awareness of God. He is all powerful, Creator of all. If he wanted, he could prevent any natural calamity. Secondly, we believe that all God does is out of love for us. So, in understanding a natural disaster we have to realize that God lets them happen out of His Love for us. This Love wants to bring us into union with him with eternal life in Paradise as we were originally created.
Here are a few thoughts from the Wisdom of our Church Fathers:

St. Isaac the Syrian: 
A time of trial is beneficial to everyone: the diligent are tried so that their wealth may increase; the lax, so that they may be preserved from harm; those spiritually asleep, so that they may prepare themselves for watchfulness; those whose who are far from God, so that they approach Him; those who are God’s close associates, so that they may come closer to Him in freedom of speech.
St. Basil the Great says, 

If no one makes an effort to repent over the causes of woeful manifestations: why there is drought, why rain, why thunderbolts, why hail? This is for us, who have unrepentant hearts, and who have not been converted until we are stricken.
St. John Chrysostom speaks also about the need to correct our lives and place our hope in God: 

"Leave to God the time for the end of calamity, and we shall only pray; we ourselves shall live piously; for it is our affair to turn to virtue, while it is God's affair to stop calamities.” 
In another work, this great preacher warns: 
”God is powerful to stop all catastrophes, but until He sees our conversion, He does not put a stop to our woes.”
Elder Paisios when asked, "Why God does allow a calamity to happen?" responded.:

There are all kinds of reasons. Sometimes God will allow something to happen so that something better may come out of it, and other times He wants to educate us. Some people are rewarded and others pay a debt; nothing is wasted. You know, whatever God allows, even when human being perish, it is done out of love for man, because God has a "heart."
Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica says,

By thoughts man often disturbs the order of creation.  That is how the first people were destroyed––in a flood––because of their evil thoughts and intentions.  This is true even today; our thoughts are evil, and therefore we do not bear good fruit.  We must change.
Saint Paul says,

"We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Romans 5: 3-5)
From the Priest's Prayer for calamities

" O Lord Who alone art rich in mercy, and in the lovingkindness of Thy goodness dost hearken to the supplication of us, Thy sinful and unworthy servants, arranging and directing us all toward our benefit, guiding our life by Thy wise providence, and in every way desiring our salvation; Who by nature art long-suffering and great in mercy; Who dost chastise and healest again; Who dost rebuke gently and with love for man, not to destroy the work of Thy hands, but to bring it to its primal goodness and to its original nobility, which we have destroyed in the feebleness of our understanding and by the counsel of the most accursed one;... Still Thy wrath, O Lord; absolve, O Lord; have mercy, O Lord, and forsake us not utterly because of our iniquities, neither punish Thou others with our wounds. Grant that we may become chaste through the sufferings of others. "
Calamities and natural disasters are a mystery to mankind beyond our full comprehension.  We only know the tribulation and suffering that occur because of them. We must remember that we live in a fallen world that is dominated by sin. The aim of life on this earth is to perfect our souls so that we will be saved, that we will find union with God, and live with Him eternally. What happens in this fallen world, death, sickness, natural disasters and all kinds of trials and tribulations make up the fire that purifies us.

You may also find enlightening the
Prophecy of Saint Nilus
Or this article
Patient Endurance by Fr. George Morelli

Another post on this Blog on Evil

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes 5: 16-18)


  1. Great post. I think it's too simplistic to think that everything has a random natural cause and not a spiritual one and you seem o say that but in a kindly and charitable way.

    My favorite quote here is Elder Paiso's about God having a "heart." It's easy to get so caught up in suffering and blaming that we forget that He wants all men to repent, live the spritual life and be saved.

  2. I think we cannot leave out Jesus' teaching in Luke 13:1-5 as well. Especially with the uncharitable, insensitive and arrogant claims that are made by some vocal and public religious voices in the wake disasters like Hurricane Katrina, etc., that those who suffered somehow deserved God's judgment in a way we ourselves (with our supposed "repentance/right belief"!) do not, I appreciate the stress on the Orthodox Elders' wisdom that all such things, results of a common fall in which all sinful humans share, are transfigured to be used in a redemptive fashion for all by a perfectly good and all-merciful Father.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.