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In Theory: Counseling victims of a large-scale disaster

More than half of the places of worship in Paradise, Calif., burned in the Camp fire in early November, the nation’s deadliest blaze in a century.

According to an article on the Christianity Today website, congregations that reassembled in nearby communities remained loyal to their beliefs, citing Biblical calls for service and renewal. A wooden cross erected at the newly built Hope Christian Church that continued to stand even as the rest of the structure burned served as a symbol of enduring faith on social media.

But practical doubts remain. “We go from a church of roughly 3,000, and now they’re spread everywhere. Who’s going to come back? When will they come back?” asked Pastor Josh Gallagher of Paradise Alliance Church in the same article.

Gallagher, whose own house burned, said his first sermon after the fire addressed grief and faith in the face of the tragedy: “I told [congregants] we serve a God who understands the ‘ands.’ We can love him and still be mad at him. We can have faith and still question him.”


Q. How would you address survivors who have lost nearly everything in a disaster such as the Camp fire? Would your own worldview be challenged?


The outpouring of support from both faith-based communities and their secular counterparts in the wake of recent tragedies is inspiring. The hope is that society will continue to evolve mechanisms that offer aid faster than it will the means to hasten its own destruction. My worldview would change if the amount of charity scams and insurance malfeasance outpaces the delivery of casseroles, the offers of financial assistance and the offer of a place to stay and regroup.

The only consolation I can offer to a person who has lost everything is that I am ready to offer something. We keep creating other people because we love other people and, even as communities keep redefining themselves, people continue to survive through the nurturing power of their communities.


To a person that believes that “God moves in mysterious ways,” I can only say: “I guess so.” To people who put aside their differences to help a person in need, I don’t care whose god they’re serving — I don’t mind who’s signing the checks as long as the work gets done.

Marty Barrett

Board of Trustees President

Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills (UUVerdugo)


Man is responsible, not God, and earth is not Paradise. Trying to turn this life into Paradise is an exercise in futility as there is always something in nature or civilization to foil it. This isn’t the best of all possible worlds but it is the path to get there, and until then, God already said that “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mat 5:45 NIV). Meaning, stuff happens to everyone and it isn’t something we should rail at God regarding but be thankful that he provided the good and then shadows us come “hell or high water.” Having prevailed, we offer gratitude for his superintendence. That’s it. Nobody gets mad at God without being faithless and unbelieving, because human comprehension is but a drop in the ocean of his omniscient, loving awareness.

Regarding the recent tragedies, everyone recognizes that it’s a terrible idea to build housing over fault lines, at volcanoes bases, in tornado alleys, below sea level or in fire zones, but guess what? This is where all the news ever happens, and then we look at God accusingly with “Hey, what’re you doing?” He just shakes his head (spiritually speaking).

Let me point out, empathetically, that everyone dies — it’s just that the recent casualties seem premature to us. This could’ve been prevented had measures been taken in advance to ensure fires never overwhelm towns, but we’ve been fed a constant mantra to never water California, and so Dry Gulch caught fire. God’s fault? Know that both cults and churches burned, so nobody got divinely targeted. Know also that difficulty sometimes spreads Christ’s message (like when the early church became persecuted and scattered to the four corners) so…


I am terribly sorry that so many suffered, and assuredly, God is sorry more so, but we both wonder if California’s politicians are really with us in this.

Rev. Bryan A. Griem