Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fire and Prayer

My sister lives with her family in Colorado Springs. The past several weeks have been a very difficult time for them and many others in that area. The country overall has been very hot and dry, as we all know. And we probably also all know that a large area in and around Colorado Springs has been on fire. My sister’s neighborhood was one such area.

Today, she emailed me and others in our family a slide show she made that both narrated their story of the past several weeks, and showed the devastation caused by the fire in their neighborhood. Although I had seen some pictures on the news as I followed the progress of the fire, the photos of her street before and after were numbing.

And the story itself, with the pictures attached was almost surreal. They wake up seeing smoke on the ridge that is visible from their house. As the day progresses, so does the fire. In the later pictures, the fire itself is visible in the smoke. I can’t begin to imagine what it feels like to see an inferno advancing toward your home. By the time the evacuation orders came, the air was thick with smoke and ash and, of course, they left their home having no idea if it would be there when they came back. Also horrifying.

The path of the fire was erratic. There were pictures of cement foundations where houses once stood. Yet just a short distance away, houses stood unscathed. It looked more like the path of a tornado than a fire.

My sister’s house was spared. They didn’t even lose the food in their freezer from the power outage. We all said it was an “answer to prayer.”

But right down the street were foundations and ash, all that remained of the houses of their neighbors. Those people lost everything except their lives. And while we are grateful to God for sparing the lives of these folks, one cannot help but wonder why my sister’s house was spared, but these other houses were not.

Did we pray harder than the friends and families of those who lost all their possessions? Did God choose to listen to us and not them? Was God only able to save a certain number of homes and no more? Was my sister somehow more deserving than the others?

I think it is safe to say that the answer to all of those questions is a resounding “no.” Which in fact is why I am hesitant to exclaim, “what an answer to prayer.” Because God listened to and answered all the prayers lifted on behalf of those affected by the fire. But for some, his answer came in a form quite different than that my sister experienced.

This is all very difficult to understand. And our tendency to act as though God is more like a cosmic Santa Claus than the Holy One of Israel doesn’t help much. But the fact is, that God’s ways with us are “unsearchable,” as Paul writes. And we must learn to accept good from God as well as bad, something two Old Testament sufferers, Naomi and Job, knew well.

All this is to say that thankfulness for God’s protection is a very appropriate response. But we might want to be cautious about how we talk about prayer and God’s response to it.

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