The temperatures are in the triple digits, the winds are strong, and the grasses and trees are bone-dry from the lack of moisture. All it took was a mechanical failure of a vehicle to ignite a fire that would grow to apocalyptic size. What is now call the Carr Fire has all eyes focused on Redding, California in Shasta County. So far, 141,825 acres have been torched, six people have been killed, entire neighborhoods have been destroyed and $24,000,000.00 has been spent in an attempt to contain this ferocious fire. The fire seems to have no bounds and jumped the Sacramento River as it was blown toward Redding and the Christian community called Bethel. One cannot wrap their mind around the scale of destruction. Firefighters press forward even though they are exhausted and two in their ranks have been killed. Thousands have been evacuated from their homes and only had time to grab their essentials. We can only imagine the toll that has been taken on wildlife. There is also an unseen toll on those people who are in the middle of this tragedy. A spirit of shock and trauma and fear and terror will try to settle itself in the souls of these individuals. Its purpose is to steal hope from them and plant doubt in the goodness of God.
How do we reconcile God's goodness with a situation that has brought such large-scale devastation? There are no easy answers to this question. Truly, it seems impossible to answer the "why" question. However, amid hardship and confusion there are some words of wisdom and comfort that might help us in our time of need. Bill Johnson, lead pastor at Bethel Church wrote a book titled God is Good. Here is what he says: "I will not sacrifice my knowledge of the goodness of God on the altar of human reasoning so that I can have an explanation for a seemingly unanswered prayer." Those of us who have seen the goodness of God in our lives know that He is for us and not against us. "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all--how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32) The apostle Paul declares, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, or anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
In the book Faith Quake, author Pastor Doug Herman had to face the question, "Where was God?" when he lost his two-year old daughter and wife to a battle against AIDS. He knows that "pain and adversity are no respecter of persons" and advises us to pour out our hearts to God, for He is our refuge. (Psalm 62:8) Even in our darkest hour, "He will never leave or forsake us." (Hebrews 13:5) However, we must realize that we may not get the answer to our "why" question. Herman advises: "When the ground is shaking the most, keep standing. Never, ever give up spiritual ground." In the midst of difficulties, King David declared, "I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." (Psalm16:8)
Worship leader Laura Story wrote a beautiful song called "Blessings" as a result of the struggle she and her husband Martin endured through his disabilities that came upon him after brain surgery. She knows this: "Because God sees our lives from an eternal perspective He has plans that we humans simply cannot understand...Trust His plan today, even if you can't understand it." Laura asks the question, "What can sustain my soul as I wait upon the Lord? God's Word gives me a sure foundation for each next step and His Spirit gives me the hope to actually take that step...Cling to His Word like the next breath you breathe."
"Tragedy is not the final word!" says Dr. Larry Crabb, pastor and author. Here is what Pastor Herman recommends: "Use the shovel of hope to clear away the rubble of your faith quake." The Bethel Church has already begun assisting their community in rebuilding their lives through practical means. Christians from around the world are praying for them and contributing to the recovery and rebuilding efforts. God's promises provide a firm foundation upon which we can rebuild. One such promises was the mission statement of Jesus--"to comfort all who mourn...to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes..." (Isaiah 61:2-3) We should pray for, support and encourage the Bethel community as they share the love of Jesus in the rebuilding efforts. You may remember a church in rural Texas led by Pastor Frank Pomeroy who lost 26 of his congregants, including his 14-year old daughter, when a gunman shot and killed them. He made this statement of faith: "I don't understand, but I know my God does." When tragedy strikes, may we rebuild our lives on God's unshakable foundation.
Joan E. Mathias