Natural evil such as death from natural disasters or disease, seems to be the most problematic for Christians to explain. Yet there are reasonable answers to this dilemma. For the sake of space, it may be best to read a couple of the blog posts I wrote previously before reading my response to this particular question.
The first thing to note is that the answer to this question may not satisfy our emotional need or our heartfelt objection to natural evil.
And it’s important to differentiate between the two. Please re-read this article if you haven’t: https://www.clarkweidner.com/post/the-problem-of-evil-head-vs-heart.
Secondly, the best questions require answers from all sides. The explanation of evil (both natural and man-made) is not just required from believers in God but from non-believers as well.
How can we define evil or determine the nature of suffering if it is just a man-made concept? For more on this please read: https://www.clarkweidner.com/post/the-problem-of-evil-is-evil-a-problem-for-atheists.
Now on to Natural evil. One of the best explanations for natural evil is that God can oversee evil with a greater purpose. This answer may immediately sound cliche’ and perhaps empty, so I'll try to unpack it.
Some things appear evil on the surface but there is a greater good in the end. Take earthquakes for example. In an interview on this subject William Lane Craig explained the greater good that can come from earthquakes. William Craig says:
“for example, earthquakes have anything to do with human morality—it's plate tectonics, which are essential to the flourishing of life on this planet. If there were no plate tectonics then all of the mountains would erode into the oceans, and the carbon dioxide would not get recycled. The action of plate tectonics is essential to life on this planet, and yet it also causes earthquakes. So I would just see this as being the by-products of a world operating according to certain natural laws, and God has good reasons for creating a universe like that, as the theater in which the drama of the Kingdom of God is being played out.” 1
So there are things that although appear evil can be a means to something of value. Earthquakes are just one of many examples.
But let’s go a step further. God sees life from an eternal perspective. He knows the end from the beginning.
Could he have created a world in which we have free will and therefore we endure evil, pain, and suffering only so we can achieve salvation in the end? Perhaps. But what would be the good in that?
Well, if God would have given us Heaven to start with, would we have appreciated it? Could we understand the greatness of Heaven without first experiencing darkness in this world?
I am not convinced that we can understand goodness without pain and suffering. While this answer does little to comfort our broken hearts, it is reasonable to believe that God could bring about a greater good even from natural evil.
Maybe the greatest good is only found upon our final journey to eternal life with our Creator. C.S. Lewis wrote a series of sonnets on the matter called the Five Sonnets. Here is "Sonnet V" in which he described a bee buzzing at the window pane:
‘If we could speak to her,’ my doctor said,
And told her, “Not that way! All, in vain
“You weary out your wings and bruise your head,”
Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,
“Let queens and mystics and religious bees
Talk of such inconceivable as glass;
The blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,
Look there-ahead, ahead - the flowers, the grass!”
We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows
What rage she feels, terror, what despair?)
And shake her out-and-gaily out she goes
Where quivering flowers stand in thick summer air,
To drink their heart. But left to her own will
She would have died upon the window sill.’ 2
In our mortal life we often “wear out our wings and bruise our head” in pain trying to find the answer. But perhaps the answer will never be given this life. Rather, the answer may. Only be found in the next.
As the doctor takes the bee in a handkerchief, he causes the bee “rage,” “terror,” and “despair.” Similarly, when God allows the pain and gives us no answer for it, we find these emotions.
Yet one day, perhaps when we are on the other side of the window pain, we will finally understand why we endured suffering.
And yet, at that point we may be so enthralled by the flowers and the grass that we forget all about our past suffering. Either way, when we rely on our “own will,” we are destined to “die upon the window sill.” _________________________________________________________________________
1. William Craig, interview by Kevin Harris, Reasonable Faith Podcast, July 19, 2011, accessed May 29, 2019, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/what-about-natural-evil/.
2. C.S. Lewis, The Five Sonnets in Poems, Edited by Walter Hooper (New York: NY, Harcourt Publishing Co.) 27.