Talking to Your Children About the California Fires

Posted on · Posted in Current Events, Gospel

It would not be surprising for your children to ask, “Why is God allowing these terrible fires to hurt so many people and destroy their homes?” You may even be asking yourself that same question! 

Here are three possible attempts to understand these catastrophic fires ravaging California and God’s involvement in them.

1. The Fires are random circumstance

The first way is to attribute the fires to a random collection of circumstances that sparked these fires and led to the awful results. In this construct, God had nothing to do with the fires and the destruction they caused. God’s role is one of consoler and comforter. We are left with God playing the role of a bystander observing the fires with us and offering us a divine shoulder to cry on. While the shoulder is perhaps comforting, the question, “why?” remains. How is God working this for our good? The unsettling answer is, “I don’t know.”

2. The fires are direct judgement

A second answer takes a more direct approach but also leaves you and your children with more questions than answers.  From this perspective, God is said to be directly causing the fires to bring judgment. But there is an immediate problem with this approach. Are the people of Paradise, California more deserving of judgement than, say, the people of Greenville, South Carolina? This approach makes God out to be a random punisher of sins. For example, in 2004 the Christmas Tsunami hit Indonesia and took the lives of almost a quarter of a million people. Were the people in Southeast Asia more guilty than those of the Southeastern U.S.? Why did New Orleans suffer loss and not Atlanta, Houston or Cleveland? This approach makes God out to be someone whose judgment is unevenly distributed and thus leaves hard questions in its wake. 

No, attempting to assign direct judgment of God to specific cities will not give a satisfying answer to the question “why?”

3. The fires are a display of God’s power and mercy 

Thankfully, there is a third alternative. Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about fire. We find many places where God identifies himself with fire:

  • God spoke to Moses in the burning bush.
  • He humbled the Israelites with blazing fire from the mountain.
  • He rescued his three servants as they walked in the fiery furnace.
  • He baptized the apostles with fire at Pentecost.
  • The Holy Spirit says in Hebrews that our God is a consuming fire.

We see fire represented as a sign of comfort, a sign of judgement, a sign of God’s presence and salvation, and finally, as a representation of God himself. Taken in this context, we see the fires reminding all people of God’s fierce hatred of sin and his kind compassion to extend the mercy of the gospel.

In this third view, we see the fire as a powerful yet gracious reminder that all people need the grace of Christ to stand before the holy and spectacular God of heaven. The rampaging fires drive us to realize that only the enormous sacrifice of Jesus Christ can turn back God’s wrath. As devastating as these fires are, they pale in comparison to the devastation that is caused by sin and rebellion to God.

Once the flames are out, the ashes remain. But hope lives. It is out of these ashes that God brings the beauty of redemption through Jesus, his son. 

As the prophet Isaiah proclaims in Isaiah 61:2-3:

He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.”

Don’t miss this opportunity to talk to your children about the mighty power of God and the beauty of Christ’s redemption! We can take comfort along with those who mourn deep loss from the fires that Christ will once again bring beauty from the ashes.

Treasure in the Ashes

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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.