Question: "What is the difference between natural evil and moral evil?"
Answer: Moral evil is evil that is caused by human activity. Murder, rape, robbery, embezzlement, hatred, jealousy, etc., are all moral evils. When people, created in the image of God, choose to act in defiance of God’s law, the result is moral evil. Moral evil can also be linked to inaction—to purposefully ignore a cry for help is a moral evil.
Natural evil is that which causes pain and suffering to humanity but which is not due to direct human involvement. Congenital diseases, tsunamis, earthquakes, drought, and famine are all cases of natural evil. There is no morality involved in such events.
The categories of natural and moral evil raise some interesting philosophical and theological questions. Some philosophers see natural evil as a real obstacle to belief in an omnipotent, benevolent God. They say that, if a human being did the kinds of things that God does (cause earthquakes, cancer, etc.), then that person would be morally evil. If it would be wrong for a human being to do these things, why are they not wrong for God?
Our site has several articles that address theodicy and the problem of evil, but the points below are offered specifically in response to the problem of natural evil:
1. God does not answer to us, but we must answer to Him (Romans 14:12). God alone holds the power of life and death. It would be wrong for a person to cause an earthquake that would kill thousands because human beings do not have that prerogative. God, on the other hand, does. He is the creator and giver of life, and He can withdraw that gift when, and in what manner, He chooses. We have all sinned and deserve the death penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23). The fact that God allows any of us to live is a sign of His grace and forbearance.
2. Natural evil is a result of original human sin. Things are not the way they were created to be. With sin, pain and death entered into the system (Genesis 3). Paul tells us that all of creation is currently suffering, waiting for the time when it is set free from “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:20–22). Broadly speaking, natural evil is God’s judgment on humanity.
3. Natural evil is exacerbated by human sin. When there is a disaster, there are often many examples of people working and giving sacrificially and heroically in order to help alleviate suffering. Unfortunately, there will also be many examples of people looting, price gouging, hoarding supplies, and acting in selfish and cowardly ways to the detriment of those around them. The singular biggest cause of famine in the world today is not weather but displacement due to warfare. In these situations, food is often available for distribution to refugees, but it rots in warehouses while government officials argue over the distribution or use the opportunity to enrich themselves.
The only hope for people in a world filled with evil (whether moral or natural) is Jesus Christ. He does not promise escape from the evil in this world. In fact, He promises that His followers will experience it (John 16:33). He also promises that believers will have an inheritance in the new heavens and new earth in which there is no evil or suffering of any kind (Revelation 21:1, 4). The created order will be restored to its original balance, eliminating natural evil, and the people will be conformed to the image of Christ, eliminating moral evil.