If there’s one thing that has really slowed me down this week, it’s my inability to understand how the God I’ve known my whole life can allow such terrible devastation as the fires happening throughout California right now. Just two weeks ago, I felt so passionate - so “on fire”, if you will - in my restored relationship with Him after quite some time. And then these fires erupted, and with them intense fear, and hundreds of thousands of homes have been lost along with several dozen lives. God, I do not understand.
It’s only been a week, but it’s felt like a month, at least. I’ve spent time praying, both alone and with friends. I’ve spent lots of time reading updates on the fires, watching videos and looking at pictures. My friends and family have asked why in the world I do that, when each time I do I end up even more heartbroken. Reading updates brings me a little bit of peace by knowing the containment percentage, how fast the fires are traveling, and what type of terrain + weather combination is fueling the flames. Watching videos and looking at pictures is the hardest part, but doing so is normalizing this situation in my mind. In the safest way possible, it’s me “facing my fear”.
This morning - the one morning I have free to spend however I want each week - I picked up Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God and turned to the chapter in which he discusses suffering. Here, he starts by pointing out that evil, pain, suffering, devastation, etc. are not evidence against God. Just because we may not see a purpose in the situation immediately does not mean that one does not exist. Which leads me to my next question: okay, so even there is a purpose, God, why put your people - who desire you, love you, serve you - through such terrible pain and suffering?
He brings up the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph endured great pain and suffering from the hands of his own brothers - imprisonment and slavery - and yet God uses Joseph to heal broken relationships within the family, to protect them from foreign dangers and help Israel develop as God had planned, and to provide wisdom for the famine spreading through the land (read more here). Through such trial, Joseph’s character was refined and he learned to lean solely on God for strength, protection, and guidance, shaping him into “a powerful agent for social justice and spiritual healing.” (Keller, 24).
Now think, Haley. How many times in your life have you gone through something painful? I can name off a few, though nothing compared to what Joseph endured. Through each trial, I questioned God - His purpose and sometimes even His existence - and each time, I came out of the trial knowing, loving, and trusting Him more than I ever had.
As I think about these fires and the devastation they’ve caused, the questions and uneasiness they’ve raised are stronger than ever. People are losing homes, family members, and their own lives and at an astonishing 250,000+ acres combined in the burns, I struggled to understand how the God I’ve known, loved, and trusted my whole life could watch that. He hears my prayers and those from the millions of others around the world who are also praying, and yet the fires continue.
As Jesus lay on the cross, too, God heard his cries. “On the cross, he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours”, Keller writes (30). The Bible tells us that Jesus came to rescue us from our sins and to show us the unconditional, immense love of God and eternal life with Him. “He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us,” says Keller.
Though that puts our pain and suffering into perspective, it doesn’t answer our questions (or, at least, the ones I have). What it does provide us is a promise of His love in how He took on our pain and suffering so that we wouldn’t need to. Sure, we still experience pain and suffering in our lives, but we can do so knowing that God loves us, knowing that we are not suffering alone, knowing that we can rest in our hope, faith, and love for God.
People are losing homes, family members, and lives. We cannot afford to - nor will we - lose God in this. He is with us. If this is the end of California, then we can hope in eternal life with Christ in Heaven. If this is not the end, then we can be faithful in His promise to bring good in time.