Natural Disasters: God's Anger, The End Times or Just Reality?

Natural disasters freak us humans out -- and understandably so. But are our reactions logical or rational? Do they have any basis in reality? I don't think so, especially after watching the after-effects of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, followed by fears of radiation poisoning from damaged nuclear plants. The deeply religious claim the "heathen" Japanese were being punished by God, while others say the disaster is a sign of an impending galactic realignment that will bring a new age of peace -- or something. What should I believe? Caught in the middle are people like my local radio DJ, whose memory and education are so lacking that she tells listeners it must be the end of the world.

Did the world end in 2004 when a tsunami struck Indonesia? It was pretty bad, after all, killing more than 150,000 people. Let's go back further, way back to 1900 when a hurricane wiped out Galveston, Texas, killing more than 6,000. That disaster pales in comparison, certainly, but my point is that natural disasters have always happened on this planet -- and always will. Still not convinced? Here's a list showing earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions dating back to the 12th century. These were some whoppers, too, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. An 1887 flood in China killed about 900,000; a 1780 earthquake in Iran killed 200,000; a 1737 typhoon that hit India killed 300,000; in 1201, an earthquake that shook an area stretching from Egypt to Syria killed 1.1 million. And yet, the world kept turning; it didn't end.

Yes, the loss of human life is tragic in all these cases, but isn't it obvious that this is what comes with living on a planet with a molten core, shifting tectonic plates and changing weather patterns? I guess it's easier to look for a big, dramatic cause and effect. I remember watching television images of the tsunami hitting Japan and wiping out everything in its path; I remember thinking, "It's all futile, all our worries and strivings -- and nature just wipes it out in seconds." Sure, that's humbling -- but it might also be true. If nothing else, maybe these disasters can show us how easily distracted we can get, and life is simply here to enjoy while we have it. Nothing wrong with that.

But we humans want answers and explanations for everything, and I think we have religion for that very purpose. Nothing wrong with that either, but -- and I'll get in trouble for this -- believing something doesn't make it true. Every religion has a different explanation for natural disasters, but they can't all be true. Yet religion serves a purpose; it unites us in times of trouble, it helps us persevere in difficult circumstances, and it gives us hope. But we need to go further and seriously ask, does God use nature to punish?

It isn't just humans who suffer when nature strikes. Birds, fish, cats and dogs die, too. Do you see them shaking their wings/fins/paws at the sky and asking why? That's silly, you say, because animals don't have souls, so they don't know any better; after all, they don't go to heaven. Really? Tell that to young Colton Burpo, who says he saw lots of animals (among other things) when he visited Heaven while unconscious for surgery. If animals get an automatic pass to Heaven without worrying about life, death and everything in between, can I come back as one? My point is that the idea of God using natural disasters to reprimand us reminds me of some petulant child who destroys all his toys because one might be broken, leaving a careless, indiscriminate wake of carnage. If that's what God is really like, I'll pass.

Instead, I think we need to see our planet for what it is, a volatile, dangerous place. But it's still our home, it's still a good place to be given the alternatives. And so, yes, we build structures that withstand earthquakes, we create tsunami-warning systems -- with the understanding that disasters will still happen and human lives will still be lost, along with thousands of innocent animals and plants just going about their own business. That may not be comforting but it does free me from living under constant fear.

And this realization doesn't leave me hopeless -- quite the contrary. It makes me appreciate life even more, seeing how precious it is. I'm more thankful for those pleasant sunny days when everything goes right. Although I may not know what happens when we die or if there is a God, I can still be grateful and thankful for what I have right here, right now, and isn't that the best any of us can do, anyway?

However, if you see every flood, earthquake and strong wind as a sign of the world's end, you won't have to worry about all that much longer. One guy says it'll all be over on May 21 of this year -- whew, what a relief!