Whenever tragic events such as last Friday's Tasmanian bushfires happen, it brings out the best in most people. Many people find hidden reserves of energy, courage, generosity, and compassion that we forgot were present.
Tragically, these events bring out the worst in others. This includes some people of faith. For many people, if they have an inadequate view of God, this leads to real trouble.
Some people - not all, not most, but some - see the disaster as an "act of God". Some even say that these tragic events are God's "punishment" on people for various "sins", usually of a sexual nature. Following the 2009 fires in Victoria, one high-profile cult leader in Victoria described the fires in just this way.
For some odd reason, the people who believe that natural disasters are punishments from God are more apt to see them as punishment for people's sexual peccadilloes rather than for such more weighty matters as greed or bigotry.
When people talk this way, it becomes a reason for some people to lose their faith, preferring no God to a cruel, capricious god who would cause such suffering. It's an understandable - and sensible - reaction. If the only choice was between a cruel or capricious god and no God at all, I'd also choose no God.
But ... but ... this isn't the only choice. Thank God.
I do not believe that God caused these destructive fires. Neither did God cause any other natural disaster. These disasters are caused by natural forces, frequently worsened by the irresponsible stewardshp by people of God's good earth.
The God whom I worship ... who is worshipped by mainstream Christians, mainstream Jews, mainstream Muslims, and mainstream members of other faiths ... God is profoundly loving, merciful, and compassionate.
In the face of these disasters, God does two things.
God suffers alongside those who suffer.
God also inspires people - people of faith, people of no faith, people whose faith is known to God alone - to undertake acts of courage and compassion on bchalf of others.
Bad things happen, both in the world of nature and in the area of human behaviour. God doesn't cause these bad things to happen. God gives us strength to deal with these bad things with courage, creativity, and compassion.