The images coming out of California are nothing short of horrifying. You watch a video of a family literally escaping through the flames, the wife praying in the passanger seat for their safety, her husband in shocked awe at the loss of people's homes which are burning on both sides of the road. I can't imagine it.
What are we to make of all this?
Some people, jumping at a political opportunity, are labeling this as God's punishment on a state that has leaned more and more liberal over the years. "God is finally getting even with these people," seems to be the underlying thought. Apparently God promotes a certain political viewpoint in Scripture?
Another point of view is that this is just the consequence of mankind's behavior. Whether it's poor forest management, man-made climate change, or something else, the thought seems to be that there is nothing divine in these actions, there is no spiritual "takeaway," there is only the material world and thus we must look for material solutions for mankind's problems.
The answer, as it so often does, lies in the middle. The traditional Lutheran approach is always to take the narrow middle ground between two viewpoints. This is neither a punishment nor an absent or non-existant God. This is, however, a consequence of mankind's behavior, and it does have a spiritual takeaway. Let me explain.
God COULD have pre-programmed us with all the correct attitudes and behaviors so that we would never have made an incorrect choice. Think of this like spiritual robots. But he didn't. Thus mankind fell into sin by an abuse of their God-given free will (and has made a whole bunch of mistakes since.)
God COULD have created this world and then stepped back to watch what would happen and laugh his head off at all our foolishness and intervene only when it suited him. But he didn't. Thus he redeemed mankind from sin and hell through the life, death and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ.
God DID create us with a spirit and a highly developed capability for reason. God DID involve himself most intimately in our lives.
So here's the takeaway. These fires in California are not God's punishment. God's punishment fell on Jesus. When Jesus said, "It is finished," that's what he meant. Done. Nada. Zilch. No more punishment for sin remains. It's what makes rejection of Christ so tragic.
Instead these fires are a wakeup call.
For everyone who thought they were living in paradise with their home in the country and their life set up just the way they wanted it and all was right in the world and they had no need for God, this fire roared through Paradise and has nearly taken it off the map. God can do that. He did it to Sodom and Gomorrah years ago, he's still doing it today. Wake up.
For everyone who thinks they can put off their relationship with God until tomorrow, or when their life is more settled down, God can send a fire that will spread so quickly that people will die escaping in their vehicles. Wake up.
For everyone who thinks God doesn't care, that there are no more good people left in the world, and all is cynical and base, God sends humble people of heroric preportions who brave the dangers of a wildfire to rescue, to help, to save lives. God does care. Wake up.
And for anyone who wants to point the finger at others in self-righteous judgment, God can send a fire that no one was expecting to come their way so fast. Maybe we should take care of our own life first? Wake up.
The fires in California are like any other natural disaster - it's your time to take notice, measure your life against the Word of God, and wake up.
Our church body does send aid to those in need. If you would like to contribute to our Committee on Aid and Relief to help those affected in the CA wildfires, please click here.
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