In another way, whenever a natural disaster afflicts a particular region, there are always some who are quick to pronounce the tragic event as God’s wrath or judgment being poured out upon an unrepentant people. Certainly, God has worked through cataclysmic events throughout history as a way of calling His people back to Himself. Many take issue with this premise because it does not seem to be consistent with how God is revealed in the New Testament; we’ve so fully embraced a God of unconditional acceptance and tolerance that we forget that God is holy and desires holiness from His people. Part of God’s character (which must remain unchanging while His actions can change as He chooses to deal with issues in different ways) involves wrath, not in a hateful or vengeful way but as a means of preserving His holiness. Christians love Jesus because He took upon Himself all of God’s wrath toward us as He satisfied the sentence of death placed on our lives because of sin. Is God’s wrath the context we as Christians ought to use to reflect on the current situation in Fort McMurray?
I will be the first to admit that there are no easy answers when trying to reconcile why bad things happen. And I am fully aware that any answer given may perpetuate hurt or cause offense when heard in the midst of grief and despair; I am trying to avoid this while helping us to see God in the midst of the devastation. With that disclaimer, I offer a few reflections on the wildfire in Fort McMurray (which is also applicable to any other event which causes us to stop and wonder, ‘why?’.
First, we need to be clear about what this disaster isn’t
- It is not Karma. Certainly, those engaged in risky behaviours are more likely to have ‘bad things’ happen to them, just as those engaged in healthy and positive behaviours are more likely to have ‘good things’ happen to them. But the notion that good things happen to ‘good’ people and bad things happen to ‘bad’ people does not hold up as there were good and righteous people caught in the devastation. How often have you thought, “that person doesn’t deserve that” or conversely, “why didn’t that happen to me? I’m a good person, I deserved that!”
Karma does not fit within the Christian worldview.
God doesn’t save us based on how good we are but simply on the basis of Christ’s goodness which has been given to us. Moreover, God doesn’t bless and prosper just those who are ‘good.’ Matthew 5:45 reminds us, “For [your Father in heaven] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” This event was not about getting what they deserved in a Karmic sense.
- It is not God delighting in the suffering of people: God does not bring evil into the world. He cannot stand the presence of evil; it is against His entire character. God is entirely good. How can I say God is good when people have lost their entire earthly possessions and have been displaced from their homes and work?
- We know already that every material thing we have is but fleeting even though we spend our entire lives building, accumulating, and maintaining our stuff. As the old saying goes: ‘you can’t take it with you.’ I know this sounds incredibly crass (especially to those who have lost everything) but this is the reality within which we live and from which we must operate. Everything is fleeting except for life with God (Ecclesiastes 3:18-20).
- It comes back to the cross and the incarnation where God himself was tempted, experienced heart-ache, and died and excruciatingly painful death. God does not delight in suffering just as He is not aloof from it. He has entered into it and is ready to walk with those who currently find themselves suffering. Just as He did on the cross, Jesus actively works to redeem pain and suffering.
- It is not a direct punishment for specific sin: all of us stand guilty before God because of our sin (disobedience) if it were not for Jesus Christ; we must always remember that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). However, the logic that the fire was a direct result of Fort McMurray’s sin of exploiting the resources God put in the ground should be denounced in the same way Jesus refuted the argument that a man’s blindness was the result of his or his parents’ sin (John 9:1-7). As mentioned above, human action contributed in some way to the devastation as one report pointed to the years of fire suppression and cheaply built homes as compounding factors but to say that it is a direct consequence of sin misses the point when teachers, nurses, children, and others not working in the Oil Sands were so dramatically affected.
- Even as we are reminded that God grieves and hurts when we grieve and hurt, this could be one way that God is trying to get the attention of His people—not dealing specifically with climate change (although each of us are guilty in some way of abusing God’s creation)—but in calling people back to Himself as their Lord and Saviour, for that is God’s ultimate hope for everyone. His desire to welcome more people into relationship with Him is the reason He puts up with evil and suffering in our temporal world; He wants all to hear the Goodnews of Jesus and have their hearts changed (2 Peter 3:9; Matthew 24:14). Sometimes we need the clutter out of our lives to see and hear God clearly.
- A chance for God’s people to show Christ’s love to their neighbour. God called us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). Already we’re hearing dramatic stories of people’s selfless generosity and their willingness to give generously as they donate to aid agencies, send urgently needed supplies to the evacuees, and to open their homes to those displaced. Christians (and non-Christians alike) are already demonstrating powerful love which we know points to and from Jesus.
- With the love of Jesus that can overcome all adversity and hardship, pain and suffering.
- Pray for those dealing with the shock, frustration, and pain of losing their homes and belongings.
- Give to aid agencies on the ground like Canadian Lutheran World Relief or the Canadian Red Cross.
- Keep those affected by disasters (flood, famine, earthquakes, and outbreaks of diseases) in other parts of the world in your prayers and in your giving.
Photo Public Domain Author: U.S. Department of Agriculture; Source: Flickr: 20120620-FS-UNK- 0009