Are disasters 'natural'?

Courtesy photo
As I looked out the window of the airplane, what drew my eye wasn’t the scenery of the American Southwest—it was the huge billow of smoke from a wildfire.

It was there on the plane, during a summer flight to California for a National Leadership Council trip, that I really began to pray about the issue of natural disasters. That year, 2011, had seen many weather-related outlashes, including floods, fires, earthquakes, and hurricanes in various parts of the world. But as I stared at the fire through the window, what immediately came to mind was that it’s natural for God to care for His creation through loving provisions, and unnatural to assume that His creation includes destruction or loss. I just knew that not a single family was out of God’s care.

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I later found out that the fire was contained and extinguished with no loss of lives. And now, innovative efforts to restore that area of forest are underway.

Later, as I was thinking more about this, it occurred to me that a “disaster” is in no way natural, which makes the term natural disaster quite the oxymoron (like “jumbo shrimp,” for example!). In Christian Science we have to defend our thinking against getting confused by other oxymorons, too—like believing in a “mortal mind” or a “physical man.”

As I continued to pray with the idea that humanity and creation are spiritual and perfect, I began trying to put these ideas into practice. After Hurricane Irene hit the east coast of the United States later that year, I was able to give support to a number of friends who live there. Several people texted or called me asking for spiritual ideas relating to the situation, and I offered them the same concept that I had prayed with when thinking about that forest fire: Disasters can’t be a “natural” part of God’s creation.

The term natural disaster is quite the oxymoron—like "jumbo shrimp"!

Later that summer, my Sunday School class discussed ways to pray about the weather, especially about the “natural” disasters that had been occurring in the American northeast and in other parts of the world. Typically, most of us probably don’t think to pray about weather on a daily basis; we just think: “Oh, that’s how it’s going to be. There’s nothing we can really do about it.” But as we talked in Sunday School, I realized that we never have to be limited by the day’s forecast! My teacher talked about the story of Elijah, who at one point wanted to simply give up, fleeing into the wilderness after being threatened with death (see I Kings 19:1–12). God sent an angel, who fed Elijah and told him to “arise.” After that he went into a cave in Mount Horeb. The cave could represent a darkening of thought, or a temptation to succumb to despair or belief in a mortal mind. Eventually, Elijah listened to God and went out on the mountain. Many disasters passed through, including “a great and strong wind,” an earthquake, and a fire. But each time Elijah saw that God was not in these disasters. He was in the “still small voice” that followed.

My Sunday School class talked about how, just like in that experience, God is in no way part of the earthquakes, the fires, the floods, or the hurricanes that occur today. God is All, and is completely natural. Mary Baker Eddy calls earth “a type of eternity and immortality, which are likewise without beginning or end” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 585). No material force can obstruct or destroy eternity. God’s creation is forever, and He knows only good and love.

These ideas were helpful this past summer, when I worked as a CIT (counselor in training) at a camp for Christian Scientists. One night a heavy storm rolled in. One of the girls in my cabin woke up at a loud clap of thunder and began whimpering. I was closing the window flaps around the cabin when I heard her. I walked over to her bunk and whispered, “Do you think you can fall back asleep?” She told me no, so I replied that I would stay there with her to comfort her. As she began to doze I told her the story of Elijah, and how there couldn’t really be any harm in a storm, since God protects His creation always. The rain brought water to the earth not to scare us or destroy us, but because the earth needs rain. My little camper seemed to really understand this. When I told her to think of the loud thunder as the angels slamming doors and God laughing because He thought the slamming was funny, she giggled, and fell fast asleep.

I was so grateful that I was able to help her—and that, yet again, God’s harmony was proved.

The Touch of Class
A game-changer
October 15, 2012

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