Alberta is burning. The Fort McMurray wildfire has engulfed a huge area surrounding the city. The fire has destroyed, according to reports, about 2,400 homes and other structures, and displaced 90,000 people. It’s a national tragedy the scale of which, at least in terms of size and economic loss if not (thankfully) loss of life, can probably be compared to the Ice Storm of 1998 and the Halifax Explosion.
In our era of social media, Internet and instant everything though, it didn’t take long for this tragedy to become political, touching off a debate on weather or not it’s “too soon” to be making these statements. Perhaps it is, perhaps it’s not. I’ve written about how Christians ought to respond to climate change in general in the past, and I’ll let that speak for the issue in general, but how ought Christians think or respond to this tragedy in particular?
Is God mad at Fort Mac?
Is He judging Canada for some sin?
Is He pro-green energy and taking a shot at big oil?
These are good questions, but before we seek to answer them we should take time to remember that this is a real event that is causing real pain to real people all over the country right now. We need to stay mindful of that, and prayerful for their families. We must not lose focus on real lives and people when we try and answer some of these questions.
Is God Judging Fort McMurray?
This tragedy is about the people and city of Fort McMurray, make no mistake. However, inevitably, these questions about a “just and loving God” and how He could allow this will arise. It’s important to have an understanding about that.
First and foremost, and I cannot stress this enough, punishment and God smiting people for sin is over. It ended at the cross. There is no such thing as God’s punishment anymore. There is certainly discipline, God will discipline those He loves (Hebrews 12:6) but He doesn’t punish. Jesus was punished in our place and all of the punishment God had was meted out on Christ. So this idea that this is some sort of divine judgement or punishment on the people or city of Fort McMurray is simply wrong, it’s not.
So what is it?
It doesn’t take much to see that there is something wrong with the world we live in. It’s pretty obviously kind of busted up. Whether you are a climate change supporter or denier or somewhere in between, we can all agree that the world isn’t perfect. In a perfect world, after all, there would be no wildfires. Not fewer of them, not smaller, less intense or destructive ones, none. There would be no tornadoes or hurricanes. No typhoons, earthquakes or landslides either. Creation would exist in perfect balance and harmony and we, as its stewards, would care for it perfectly. This is not the case, and the problem doesn’t stem from fossil fuels or the industrial revolution. It started way back in a garden in Eden.
Sin and its effects impacted our ability, as stewards of creation, to care for the world as we were meant to. Genesis 3:17-19 lays out, in particular, how this works itself out in the realm of work and agriculture specifically. Fast forward a couple thousand years and Paul is talking, in Romans 8:22, about how since the beginning, all creation is groaning. All of creation, in a sense, is in pain and is awaiting the relief of the new Kingdom and the renewal of all things when Jesus returns. That’s what’s happening in Fort Mac. Tragic, but simple. It’s sin, the fall, and the curse plus time. We must remember that God is good and has provided the means of salvation and renewal to us. Like the world around us, we groan and await the final consummation of the Kingdom of God. We have faith that it will come, and that Jesus will return when it does, and that then, all things will be made new. Until then, we pray. We pray for the victims and those affected, we pray for the responders and their families. We pray and we look forward to the return of Jesus when all these things will be over.
What has happened in Fort McMurray is a national tragedy the effects of which will be with us for a long while, The church my family and I are a part of is itself a part of The Fellowship, which has set up a wildfire relief fund. If you’re interested, you can read about it and donate here. The Fort McMurray wildfire may not be theologically significant, but it is and will continue to be hugely significant in the lives of our brothers and sisters in North Eastern Alberta.