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Texas wildfires and the compassion of God

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The chimney of a house remains standing as the rest of the building burns to the ground near Bastrop, Texas, September 5, 2011 (Credit: Reuters/Mike Stone)

When are wildfires spread by a flood?  When they are stoked by the gale force winds of a tropical storm, as is the case in Texas this morning.

Our state is grappling with wildfires that have already destroyed more than a thousand homes and killed two people.  More than 3.6 million acres of land have been scorched since the worst drought in a generation became even more severe last November.  Over the weekend, fire officials responded to 63 new fires, the worst of which is burning just east of Austin.

At the same time, much of the nation has been deluged by water.  Vermont and upstate New York are facing more flash floods caused by Hurricane Irene.  Earlier this year, farmers in the upper Midwest fought crop-destroying floods.  With less than four months to go, 2011 is becoming one of the most expensive years for natural disasters in U.S. history.  Prior to Irene, disasters have caused our country $35 billion and killed at least 589 people.

If I lost my home to a fire or flood, I would be asking God why he allowed this tragedy.  I understand that we live on a planet in rebellion against its Creator (Romans 8:22); wildfires and hurricanes would not have existed in the Garden of Eden.  God has also chosen to honor the free will he gave us, so that the consequences of misused freedom are not his fault but ours.

However, our Lord has the omnipotent ability to superintend nature, as when God parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22) and Jesus calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:26).  And no one misused their free will to create the Texas wildfires or Hurricane Irene.  Why did our Father permit such disasters?

Here’s the bottom line: I don’t know.  The fact that I cannot understand the mind of God should not be a surprise.  If he is omniscient on a level transcending all human genius and I am not, I should not expect to comprehend his mind.  He reminds us, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

What I do know is that the King is still on the throne of the universe, redeeming all he allows.  He wants to redeem these disasters by reminding us of our need for his royal wisdom and power.  A wildfire can cross the length of a football field in four seconds; with all our technological capacity, we cannot control it until nature cooperates.  A hurricane can destroy in a day the most advanced cities known to human history.  We have never needed a King more than today.

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, our nation is reminded of the frailty and fragility of life.  Where have fires and floods found your soul this morning?  Have you made your Father the King of your day?