There is much written on this and other forums on the "Problem of Evil", and I think when it comes to moral evil committed by humans, the Orthodox understanding is clear, precise, and, ultimately, true: We have been given free will by God, and thus we can choose to do good (by following His will and His commands) or to do evil (by following our own will or the temptations of Satan). At least, this is the best I can briefly boil it down to, though it is in no way adequate or comprehensive.
I just finished reading David Bentley Hart's "The Doors of the Sea" and found it to be eloquent and remarkable, though I would like to make sure that I am understanding it. What I mean here by "it" is the Orthodox explanation of natural disasters, which is loosely what the book is about. Evil committed by humans is one thing; massive numbers of lives lost and, schools, hospitals, families, and churches destroyed in an earthquake seems to be different. The book is an attempt to explain the Orthodox understanding of natural disasters, with particular reference to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that resulted in 230,000 lives lost, and it is also a response to atheists who said that the disaster was proof of the non-existence of God and to some protestants who said it was God "punishing the heathens" or simply "part of God's unknowable plan".
Now, Mr. Hart makes it clear that he does not intend to be laying out the "official" Orthodox view on the matter, but only to explain it in best words he can using the teachings of Scripture and Tradition. I am here to say that I do not have at all a full understanding of the issue after reading the text, and I would like some help.
If I could paraphrase Mr. Hart as best I can, the tragedy of natural disasters stems from the initial fall. We live in a fallen world, a world that is not that of God but of the Enemy. This world is a pale reflection of the world as God originally created it. God gave man free will, and man chose to not obey God, and thus the fall occurred. This fall applies to the whole of creation, including the natural order. Natural disasters are a result of this fall because the world itself is fallen. They are not God's will, nor are they punishment.
Again, the above summary is by no means comprehensive or complete, and I would doubt my own understanding of what Mr. Hart was trying to say as his writing can be very high-level stuff.
Please help me by responding:
1). Is this an accurate Orthodox understanding of natural disasters?
2). (For those who have read/know of him) Is this an accurate summary of Mr. Hart's writing?
3). If this is not an accurate understanding, could someone please help me by explaining what the Orthodox understanding, view on, and/or explanation of natural disasters is? Are there any Orthodox sources (such as in the Fathers) where this issue is discussed?