Are Natural Disasters Divine Retribution?

In trying to rationalize a benevolent God with natural disasters we often jump to the conclusion that it must be our fault. Surely we’ve done something wrong because God wouldn’t send these events without good reason. Thus, we start to view natural disasters as some sort of divine payback for past sins.


This is not something you deserve. God didn’t cause a disaster to occur because of something you did or something someone else did. You hear this sort of nonsense all the time. Some said the Haiti earthquake was the result of God’s anger with that country because they had made a pact with the devil or 9/11 was divine retribution for the immorality of America or Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on the city of New Orleans for their sins.


The idea that natural disasters or terrorist attacks are some sort of divine payback is simply not true. The Bible says that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt 5:45). In other words, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. There’s no correlation. As John Piper says, “there is no morality in a flood or a hurricane.” They kill indiscriminately. They don’t decide who or what they’re going to destroy. They just do it. That’s why they’re called natural disasters and not a moral disasters.

However, we still try to make the connection. Whenever one house is spared amidst a neighborhood full of destruction we observe that “they must be living right.” Or when the storm hits our home we immediately start thinking “what have I done to deserve this?” The answer is nothing. You’ve done nothing to deserve this! It wasn’t the result of your sin or anyone else’s. It just happened.

In John 9, Jesus’ disciples brought him a man who was blind from birth. They asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Like most of the world at that time, they automatically assumed that tragedy equaled divine retribution. Jesus corrected their faulty logic by explaining that “neither this man nor his parents sinned.” In other words, he didn’t do anything to bring this upon himself and neither did you.

So why do bad things happen then? Next post…

3 thoughts on “Are Natural Disasters Divine Retribution?

  1. Very wise reflections! Ironically, Piper has apparently deviated from the views that led to the quote you used as he recently attributed a tornado in Minnesota to God's hand: "The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin." I'm thankful you're helping your congregation process this from a theologically informed perspective!

  2. Russ,I tend to agree with you. At least I really want to agree with you. I just have trouble putting God in a box – any box.DISCLAIMER what you are about to read is in the interest of discussion not argument. I have so abused this venue in the past that I hesitate to even comment. I have no definitive answers – just thinking and reasoning out loud. You talked about John 9 where Jesus said "no one sinned to cause this man's blindness" But you stopped short of saying why Jesus said he was born blind, 3. "But this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life" Cause or allow, either way God was in control.Go back and look at John 5. Jesus heals a lame man, then says; (vs 14) "See you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you."Hebrews says that God disciplines those he loves like a father would his children. What would be an acceptable form of discipline that we would feel comfortable attributing to a loving God? What is the difference between a "Natural" disaster and a "Super Natural" disaster? Does God cause, use, or allow natural disasters to punish people?- Like Job, we must realize that is a question that we have neither the right nor the capacity to even ask. God is God. He can do whatever he pleases – whenever he pleases. It is not always pleasant, but it is always best.

  3. Pingback: Questions About God & Natural Disasters | Ramblings

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