I love weddings, and I was looking forward to Saturday’s celebration with a young couple who were well-prepared for their launch into deeper trust, respect and responsibility. We’d taken time to discuss and pray together over their promises and expectations; everything had gone to plan; but a suit and tie threatened some discomfort in February, which is normally our warmest month.
Our wedding party did experience some discomfort on the day, but God was present.
After several extreme-temperature days, Saturday had wrested the sun from the horizon to hurl it across the sky like an arrogant cosmic reptile: defying any human comfort or planning. Baking wind gusts were searing the life out of anything in their path – for they’d spent a week sunbathing over the vast heat of Australia’s outback to our north.
Victoria is one of the world’s most volatile forest fire areas, with our community riding one edge of rugged eucalypt forests that stretch fifty miles to the south coast and for hundreds of miles along our spectacular Great Ocean Road. More eucalypt forests cascade down along the slopes of our Great Dividing Range, a mountainous spine that parallels our two-thousand-five-hundred mile east coastline.
Fire is the only natural force able to burst eucalypt pods and enable seeds to fall and germinate. And our forests are constantly preparing for their next fire: accumulating straggly bark and dead leaves or fallen branches to feed any lightning strike or insanely-placed match. Yet amidst its profusion of bird life and the fragrance of the overhead foliage, regular clearing habits enable residents to almost suffer from lack of stress.
Yes, our wedding-party had some discomfort…
But during our discomfort, in the townships of our central mountain forests, small hamlets and whole communities were facing disaster from rapidly-erupting, racing walls of fire. Advance parties of flaming ashes thrown up to fifteen miles ahead of firestorms; some deliberately lit; to take root or to augment sweeping infernos that were already cooking the topsoil and confusing emergency-service radio communications.
Around the world, people learned how thousands of homes and hundreds of lives had been lost in this impersonal, relentlessly-mobile crematorium - which in some places left no sign of human remains.
We still struggle to comprehend how anyone could start any of these fires: carelessly, deliberately, or from blindness to any consequences beyond their fascination with fire. It’s equally difficult to imagine the parasitic motives of looters; or to hear political, legal, environmental or religious headline-seekers seeking to exploit the tragedy with no wider perspective and no sense of shame.
Insurance companies list lightning strikes as “acts of God,” though arson is harder to fathom. And people ask pastors like me: “Where is God?” in disasters like this.
He’s there all along, helping us to appreciate the risks along with the beauty of living in the bush, which embraces training and deploying volunteer and professional emergency personnel. He also helps survivors and relief teams to celebrate the value of life above any ruined relics, regardless of their price.
When it comes to being generous, some people will stop at nothing; but God has triggered amazing levels of heartfelt generosity that has been both spontaneous and sustained. He’s bonded total strangers within a common awareness of how tenuous our grip on life can be; and he has released new levels of compassion among those who give survivors time to rise through their shock, so they may begin to articulate indescribable experiences.
In a special joy - for me – he has simplified red tape and mobilised resources for healing and recovery; and revealed the humanity of those in high office, whose identity is too-often distorted for us by cartoonists, news editors and glib armchair experts.
And God is demonstrating his resurrecting power as shattered communities start rebuilding their identities with fresh vision, courage and faith that rises above the status they once derived from a once-enviable lifestyle.
In any fiery furnace, just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were joined by a Son of Man, God is also there for us.
In private disasters that don’t include media scrutiny; when our most articulate prayers can be decimated into becoming no more than agonised groans; he quietly accepts us as we are and he generates our inner peace: adding his forgiveness, his compassion and generosity to our attitudes and abilities, so we may rise again to work towards a safer, more-fulfilling future for everyone.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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