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Why does God allow drought?

Miriam Stewart  |  06 February 2019

If God is really good, and all things are created by God, how is it that evil still exists? One of our young writers grapples with these questions, particularly in the light of the drought facing many farmers in her home community.

The place of evil in God’s creation is not a new philosophical question. Many traditions have attempted to answer this deeply complex and existential question – ranging from ideas regarding the betterment of humanity, atonement for our sins, and human choice which stems from free will.

But despite the myriad of theological explanations for the existence of evil in the world, when faced with the current grim reality of farming communities in Australia – a culmination of severe drought and the deliberate sabotaging of the produce industry – I struggle to find a reasonable explanation for such distressing hardship which grossly affects the most vulnerable and undeserving of our population.

IS IT ABOUT BETTERING HUMANITY?

On 7 August, 2018, the Department of Primary Industries declared the entirety of NSW in a state of drought. This drought has reportedly been the most severe and widespread dry experienced since 1965, and has fittingly been labelled the worst drought in living memory.

Since the announcement in early August, the nation’s attention has turned towards our farming communities, with fundraisers and government initiatives such as ‘Buy a Bale,’ boosting morale and demonstrating a wash of support for our rural communities.

If natural disasters are allowed by God with the intent to challenge and therefore better humanity, there is no finer example than this.

Very few events draw a community together quite like drought. In the face of such overwhelming challenges, the community bands together with a stubborn refusal to give in that is truly characteristic of the Australian farming identity.

Sadly, however, the idea that God wants communities to come together doesn’t encompass the harsh and detrimental effect of such conditions on rural populations. Families lose not only hope but financial income, forced to sell land and/or sheep in an effort to remain afloat. After all, there is only so much that social cohesion and collective support can do.

Worse still than the loss of property and income is the larger evil which drought instills; a paralysing helplessness which consumes farmers as the land grows grey and lifeless, as stock grow weak and decades of work wastes slowly away.

It is a distressing reality that many farmers in extremely remote communities, beyond the salvation of communal support, turn to self-harm or suicide as a means of escaping the profound hopelessness and feelings of failure which drought creates.

IS IT A PUNISHMENT?

I find it difficult to digest theology that suggests natural disasters such as drought are a means of collectively punishing humanity for their sins.

Growing up in a rural community, I understand better than most that those least deserving of such hardship are farmers; individuals who work tirelessly and selflessly to ensure the health and wellbeing of their stock, to produce necessary foods and materials consumed by the larger population.

Small farmers, those most affected by the recent drought, rarely profit greatly from their exploits; thus inflicting hardship as a means of punishment is not only misplaced, but undoubtedly an inaccurate explanation as to why such evil persists.

IS IT ABOUT ‘FREE WILL’?

Perhaps the source of evil within the world has little to do with God and God’s plan, but rather as a result of human free will; the choice to choose evil over good.

It is argued that many occurrences of ‘evil’ within the modern world are the result of human choice – a choice in which God is prevented from intervening so as to maintain the integrity of humanity.

While this theology cannot be applied to the existence of drought (an event caused by nature and not choice), it does enable me to somewhat comprehend the actions of those individuals who put needles into strawberries and other produce during September and October last year.

The simple act of piercing fruit with needles crippled the Australian produce industry in the midst of the most severe environmental conditions in living memory – an act which and further devastated our farming communities.

To distance the responsibility of such evil from God is undoubtedly comforting; if humanity truly is to blame, this form of evil is something we can combat and defeat. But drought? A condition of nature controlled only by the rain, by the weather? How can we possibly begin to fight that which we cannot physically grasp?

WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?

In the end I am forced to draw only one conclusion; that the world in which we live, so often posed to us as a world of black and white, is undoubtedly far more complicated than that.

I understand the place of ‘evil’ in God’s good creation as a result of ambiguous imperfection; for if creation were perfect, we as humans would experience no opportunities for growth or development, and would therefore be unable to discover God in our own unique and meaningful ways.

In the meantime, the struggles of our farmers should still encourage all of us to come together to support them, to look at the things that we can do about our collective failings around issues such as climate change, and to use our freedom to make choices that will lead to a world that’s far more liveable for all communities – particularly those that sustain us.

Miriam Stewart graduated from St Scholastica’s College in Sydney last year, and is a member of our young writers community.

If you are struggling with any aspect of this article you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or go to www.lifeline.org.au.

For classroom activities and reflection questions, see The problem of evil.

 

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