Whenever there is a catastrophe, some religious people inevitably ask, "Why didn't God do something? Where was God when all those people died?" Among the answers we might consider is the one that Martin Luther gave as his wife asked a similar question upon the death of their infant son. Luther answered, "The same place he was when His son died!"
Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad answers. One such answer is that somehow all suffering is a part of God's great plan. In the midst of agonies, someone is likely to quote from the Bible, telling us that if we would just be patient, we eventually would see "all things work together for the good, for those who love God, and are called according to His purposes." (Romans 8:28)
I don't doubt that God can bring good out of tragedies, but the Bible is clear that God is not the author of evil! (James 1:15) Statements like that dishonor God, and are responsible for driving more people away from Christianity than all the arguments that atheistic philosophers could ever muster.
When the floods swept into the Gulf Coast, God was the first one who wept.
There are still other religionists who take the opportunity to tell us that God is punishing America for its many sins. Undoubtedly, there are some al-Qaeda fanatics who right now are saying that Katrina is the hand of God, striking America for what we have done to the people of Iraq and to the Palestinians. Furthermore, there are Christians who, in the weeks to come, can be counted on to thunder from their pulpits that Katrina is God's wrath against the immorality of this nation, pointing out that New Orleans is the epitome of our national degradation and debauchery. To all of this I say, "Wrong."
The God revealed in Jesus did not come into the world "to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:17) There can be no arguments over the claim that, for a variety of reasons, our nation deserves punishment. But when the Bible tells us about the grace of God, it is giving us the good news that our loving God does not give us what we truly deserve. Certainly, God would not create suffering for innocent people, who were--for the most part--Katrina's victims.
Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent. Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible. Instead, the Hebrew Bible contends that God is mighty. That means that God is a greater force in the universe than all the other forces combined.
In scripture we get the picture of a cosmic struggle going on between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. The good news is that, in the end, God will be victorious. That is why we can sing in the Hallelujah Chorus, "the kingdoms of this world [will] become the Kingdom of our Lord."
Personally, I contend that the best thing for us to do in the aftermath of Katrina is to remain silent, and not try to explain this tragedy. Instead of asking "Why?" we should be asking, "What does God want us to do now?" The loving God calls all believers in the face of Katrina's devastation to seek ways to express love in concrete ways towards those who have lost friends and family members; and to those who have lost homes along with most of their earthly belongings.
In the Bible, we read this passage: "And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." (I Kings 19:11-12)
Instead of looking for God in the earthquake or the tsunami, in the roaring forest fires blazing in the western states, or in the mighty winds of Katrina, it would be best to seek out a quiet place and heed the promptings of God's still small voice. That voice will inspire us to bring some of God's goodness to bear in the lives of those who suffer.