At least thirty-five people have died in West Coast wildfires as of this morning. We are watching apocalyptic images of scorched trees, buildings reduced to rubble, and burned and blackened cars. The fires have produced a smoke cloud that covers almost a million square miles and has traveled 1,300 miles.
Oregon officials are bracing for a “mass fatality incident” after wildfires in their state have burned over one million acres. One story is especially heartbreaking: a thirteen-year-old victim was found with his dog in his lap.
The remains of Wyatt Tofte, his grandmother, and Wyatt’s dog were discovered inside the family car in Marion County, Oregon. A family member told reporters, “He got in there and tried to drive the car and started coming down the hill and then went off to the side for some reason. I guess all the tires were just burned up and everything, the pavement was so hot.”
Killer mosquitoes and the love of God
Tropical Storm Sally is expected to become a hurricane today and appears likely to make landfall near the Louisiana–Mississippi border. It could bring up to twenty-four inches of rainfall with life-threatening storm surges and hurricane-force winds.
Meanwhile, farmers in Louisiana are dealing with a gruesome result of Hurricane Laura: thick swarms of mosquitoes driven from swamps and marshes by the storm have moved inland and are killing cattle and horses. The bugs bite the animals so many times that they die from blood loss and exhaustion trying to evade the swarms.
Add wildfires, hurricanes, and killer mosquitoes to the coronavirus pandemic that has taken more than 924,000 lives as of this morning.
Christians claim that there is a God who is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful. We explain natural disasters as a consequence of the Fall: when humans sinned, all of creation was affected as well (Romans 8:22; Genesis 3:17–19). Prior to Genesis 3, there were no wildfires, hurricanes, or viruses.
We further explain much of innocent suffering as the consequence of misused freedom (cf. James 1:13–15). If someone misuses their free will to get drunk and wrecks their car, this is not God’s fault. It is not even his fault if this person wrecks your car.
However, our all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God sometimes intervenes to prevent the consequences of the Fall and misused free will. Jesus calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35–41); the Lord protected Peter from King Herod’s plan to execute him (Acts 12:1–11).
If the Lord sometimes intervenes to prevent innocent suffering, why does he not always intervene? If he could save Peter, why didn’t he save Wyatt Tofte?
My father’s heart disease and your suffering
My father had rheumatic fever in high school. The disease weakened his heart, leading to a heart attack when he was thirty-three years old and his death from a second heart attack at the age of fifty-five.
Our oldest son was diagnosed with cancer several years ago and had to undergo surgery and follow-up radiation. He is now well, but his suffering was another consequence of our fallen world.
I’m sure you can identify times of such suffering in your life and among those you know. In this light, can you still believe in an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God?
The logical answer is that we can. The practical answer is that we must.
Why we can and must trust our Father
On a logical level, the very fact that God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful assures us that he redeems our suffering for greater good (cf. Romans 8:28).
Because he is omniscient, he knows our pain (cf. Hebrews 4:13; 1 John 3:20). Because he is all-loving, he wants only what is best for us (1 John 4:8). Because he is omnipotent, he can redeem anything for a greater purpose (cf. Matthew 19:26).
We may not understand such redemption on this side of eternity, but we can believe what we cannot yet see (1 Corinthians 13:12). In the meantime, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
On a practical level, we must not reject the love and power of God when we need them most. It is when we do not understand our suffering that we especially need to trust the One who sees what we cannot (Proverbs 15:3) and who loves us with unconditional grace (Titus 2:11). It is when our pain is greatest that we most need our Great Physician (cf. John 5:1–9).
And it is when life is most painful that God’s people should be most on our knees.
We can pray for rain where wildfires are raging. We can pray for protection and strength for those responding to this unfolding tragedy. We can pray for those in the path of Hurricane Sally, those in danger from wildfires, and those who are struggling with COVID-19.
And we can ask God to use us to answer our prayers in practical ways that incarnate his love and grace.
“You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing”
Lauren Daigle’s “You Say” released more than two years ago, has now become the only song ever to spend one hundred weeks or more at the top of any of the Billboard hot songs charts. Here is the chorus that has touched so many hearts:
You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And you say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh, you say I am yours.
Our Father is offering you the same assurance right now.