By James A. Wilson
Perhaps the most chilling report to emerge from the overwhelming disasters of 2018’s wildfires in California’s Shasta County comes from pilots who flew water drops on the monster. Several observed a face leering at them from the flames they overflew. It was the face of a demon, these hard boiled pragmatic men declared, ascribing a character of malevolence to this thing devouring land and livelihood.
Similar reports emerge from the even more devastating fires in Butte, Ventura, and Los Angeles Counties. Some eyewitnesses report the face of a woman – a woman infused with rage – peering from the flames. I have not interviewed witnesses, and so I cannot judge their objectivity. Yet – given these reports are both multiple and unprecedented – I will dare to consider their implications.
This personification of catastrophe draws my mind back to the written words of God. He takes a very personal view of every event, claiming all events are all about Him and His revelation. Concerning so-called natural disasters, He says He permits them – 2 Chronicles 7:13 – when He is seeking our attention. He implies getting our focus on Him transcends even life or death issues. He names the simple remedy in verse 14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
God forbid any words I write might be construed as blaming victims who continue to suffer horrific damage. Jesus personally addresses this issue in Luke 13. Asked whether people massacred by Pontius Pilate deserved their fate, He says neither they nor the eighteen Galileans killed when a tower fell on them were any more deserving of death than the rest of an unrepentant world. The condemnation we all share – and our suffering is not punishment but natural consequence – is not this or that law we have broken but our mania for living life unto ourselves. That shared obsession – if we believe the Word of God – throws the whole creation out of kilter and chaos inevitably ensues. The nearly one hundred known killed, the thousands missing or homeless, have been caught in the crush sooner rather than later. They are deserving of nothing but our compassion and active caring.
That said, let us re-focus on 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, words from a Word addressing the people of God. It is people called by His Name alone who are accountable for the conditions in which all live.
The most dramatic difference between the relational basis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the religious basis of Old Testament legalism is the former is meant to pro-actively bless people into the Kingdom while the latter seeks to prevent people from finding themselves cast out of it. The Old Testament is just as grounded in Christ as the New – it begins with God pursuing-to-love us from Creation to Flood, to the Patriarchs and to the Exodus – but somewhere along the way to or from the Exile people became so fearful of offending God they put all their attention into observing matters of law until the Law became a defacto substitute for the One Jesus calls Abba – Daddy.
Fast forward to our variegated and fractured Church today – each piece convinced its piece is the true remnant – each believing its particularity alone adheres to the deified Law, and we find a judgmental gaggle of people offering God only what they deem He needs, not what He says He wants. We have Christians grimly defending God – who needs no defense – and failing to protect the weak and the injured who desperately do need protection. We have other Christians – aware of the flaws of legalism and excited by the overwhelming presence of God outpouring miracles in our midst – but unaware of the reality signs and wonders are to accompany the proclamation of the Gospel without being mistaken for the Gospel itself. We have a mess.
Our God is calling for and birthing a fourth Great Awakening before us. He has shown forth His glory time and again in this day. He has spoken multiple words to enable us to navigate the highway He paves.
The words are simple. Embrace the whole of scripture, not just our pet passages, and be appreciative of anyone spotlighting something we may have overlooked. Seek the whole of Holy Spirit, from the wildest wonders to the still small voice that guides us into all truth, and be grateful to anyone sharing a revelation of the Spirit we may have missed. And – once and for all – sacrifice our sacred cows – those doctrinal oxen we will not permit to be gored. They are just too precious to us and utterly problematic – because of our misplaced devotion – to the Lord our God.
Finally we are called to extravagant and public worship, twenty-four/seven, disregarding the rage we will so incite, and humbly choosing to love those who rage by healing their hurts and feeding their hunger in the power of the Spirit.
These fires suck, and that is putting it politely. The enraged woman and the hideous demon are manifestations of the source of all death and devastation; we know it as the enemy of all life and the lord of infestation. This faux lord, however, can only operate in the absence of our visible devotion to the real One. The very gates of hell – we are promised – cannot withstand our devotion to the real One.
James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships, The Holy Spirit and the End Times, Kingdom in Pursuit, and his first novel, Generation – available at Bounty Books, or at firstname.lastname@example.org