This week, fire has me thinking about rain.
In 2005, I couldn’t believe the vitriol of “religious” pundits suggesting that Hurricane Katrina was an expression of God’s wrath on New Orleans. At that time, I argued that such statements are preposterous coming from finite creatures lacking access to the motivations of God.
This last week, we have watched as walls of fire have consumed significant parts of our beloved Southern California. Some structures destroyed by the inferno—like Malibu Presbyterian Church—held a special place in our hearts. We have received many phone calls from across the country wondering if we were out of harm’s way. We are. What we didn’t receive was the same condemning attitude expressed post-Katrina.
This reality has spawned several questions that refuse to leave my mind. Why would we pick and choose our natural disasters, interpreting one here as a deliberate and message-bearing act of God and one there as a consequence of human negligence? What gives us the right to play prophet, especially when we have proven over and over that we play that role so poorly? Perhaps an even more important question: what reading of Scripture would ever justify such expressions of animosity and hopelessness in a time of great pain and loss?
In Romans 8, as he and the Roman Christians around him suffered incredibly, Paul’s words were not condemning and judgmental. Rather, the apostle called everyone’s attention to hope. The hope of glory that lies beyond this fallen and broken world with its imperial persecutions, hurricanes, and fires. We, as the body of Christ, ought to radiate hope in all circumstances, and uniquely in times of national pain. We must keep our eyes focused on “the glory that is to be revealed” and call others to match our gaze.
Two years later, Katrina’s effects continue on. Continue to pray for the city and people of New Orleans, especially areas such as the Lower Ninth Ward which still lie in shambles. Similarly, California will feel the effects of these fires for years. Continue to pray for the people of Southern California, many of whom face a long road back to normalcy. Two thousand years later, the Church is still wrestling with what it means to be light in the darkness. Continue to pray for the Church, that we would take our role as imago Dei seriously, and represent well the God of love, mercy, and hope in this desperately painful world in which we live.