By Roberto de Mattei
The two major disasters that have struck North Africa in recent days-first the earthquake in Morocco and then, the hurricane with the collapse of two dams in Libya-have caused thousands of casualties, mourning and devastation of all kinds. On Western TV and Internet channels, scenes of grief alternated with the voices of experts: meteorologists, geologists, climatologists. Never, however, was the name of God heard. God has been the great absentee from this dramatic horizon, as if to mention him, to juxtapose his name with these misfortunes, were blasphemy. God, for the dominant culture in the West does not exist, or if, he exists he is disinterested in the world. Yet, if God is the creator of the universe, the root cause of all that exists, nothing can escape his rule. God is not disinterested in his creatures. This interest of God in creation, this government of creatures that gives order to the universe is what we properly call Divine Providence. God, lovingly and powerfully provides for every sphere of creation, down to the smallest details. The Gospel says so when it states that all the hairs of our heads are numbered (Lk. 12:1-7).
This does not reduce God, but rather constitutes proof of His greatness. It is precisely because God is infinite that he can attend to the lowest details of creation without being diminished by it. If anything could escape his creative and conservative action, God would not be God.
Those who deny God, militant atheists and secularists, but also those who while not professing atheism actually live in practical atheism, cannot conceive of the idea of Providence, for which they substitute that of Science. Calamities would be the result of fatal forces because they are governed by the laws of nature. The interpretation of events is entrusted to scientists: doctors and virologists in the case of pandemics, geologists and climatologists in the case of earthquakes and hurricanes, forgetting or ignoring that it is God who arranges the mechanism of the forces and laws of nature so as to produce a phenomenon according to the demands of his justice or mercy. Earthquakes, like pandemics, follow the laws of nature, which the scientist must investigate, but the author of nature and its laws is God, who maintains the perfect balance of the natural physical order and sometimes wants this balance to be suspended for his mysterious designs, but always for a reason.
Everything that happens in the universe is willed by God, except moral evil, which is the only true evil, and which is permitted by God because man was created free to do good or evil, to love God or reject Him. Moral evil, which we call sin, is nothing but our refusal to acknowledge God as our beginning and our ultimate end. And moral evil is nothing but the mystery of a creature rebelling against its creator, proclaiming its self-sufficiency, its independence, without having in itself the possibility of doing anything, because everything we are depends on God and without Him nothing we can do.
Earthquakes and cataclysms of all kinds, which are physical and not moral evils, because they are independent of man’s will, depend on God’s will, and since God wants only the good of His creatures, they have a meaning that man must try to understand.
The meaning that the Church and the Christian people have always attached to these natural disasters has been that of a warning: a warning. What is God saying to man with these events? God wants to remind man that everything can end dramatically in a moment, because the ultimate goal of our life is not earthly, but immortal. Earth is a place of exile, and we too easily forget that our true homeland is heaven. Evil, pain, suffering, often open people’s eyes and lead them to God. Their ultimate reason is summed up by a phrase of St. Thomas Aquinas: “The evils that beset us in this world compel us to go to God” (Summa Theologica, I, q. 21 a. 4 ad 3).
This applies to physical evil, which is independent of men’s will, but also to moral evil that they freely commit. When God punishes men on earth, for their individual or collective sins, he does so to bring them back to himself. This is the meaning of the great divine chastisements that have always accompanied human history. Behind earthquakes, diseases, and wars, we must strive to grasp the design of God hidden beneath the blind force of nature.
Anyone who does not catch the voice of God in everything that does not depend on our will, beginning with the natural disasters that surround us, is a foolish person. And whoever does not believe in divine chastisements, or does not fear them, is a blunderer and a fool, because he is devoid of that fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom.
The disasters that struck North Africa in September follow the terrible earthquake that struck Turkey in February 2023. All of this is happening on the other side of the Mediterranean, on the borders of Europe, and just as on its northeastern borders a destructive war is going on, between Russia and Ukraine. A circle of sorrow seems almost to be tightening around unfaithful Europe. It seems to be one of God’s final warnings in the face of the outrages he receives every day around the world. It is time for reflection. The chastisement is not only war, which could spread to the whole of Europe, but also a series of devastating natural cataclysms, which would be the dramatic denouement of a human stubbornness too long endured by the Sovereign of Heaven and Earth, infinitely patient and merciful, but also infallibly just.