Black Forest, Colorado has been on my mind and in my prayers all week. We lived just a few miles from where the wildfires have been raging for nine years. I have friends who live there. My son-in-law’s sister lives there. Last year’s Waldo Canyon fire was also a blow to my heart as many familiar landmarks and organizations were threatened and even destroyed by the inferno back then. These catastrophes in the national news hit close to home when people and places you know are involved.
We waited day after day this week to hear if David’s sister Rhina and her family still had a home. The flames, pushed by strong and shifting winds, were rapidly advancing toward their ranch. Earlier in the day they were able to move their horses out of harm’s way, and helped some neighbors move their horses as well. Suddenly they were given a two hour evacuation notice and they began the rush to pack up what they could, but even more suddenly, as the winds turned once more, they were told they had to leave immediately. They left with only the clothes on their backs and a handful of important documents. There was no way to take the herd of goats, their two llamas or all the barn cats. It grieved their hearts to leave the animals behind but they had no choice. The houses below them were burning and the fire was coming across the field straight at them. They saw no hope, barring a miracle, that they would have a home to return to.
Word came to them some time later that officials had allowed the Humane Society in when the winds changed once again to rescue their animals. Much of the distress they were under was lifted at that moment. And beyond hope, the word was that although all the homes around them were destroyed, their house still stood. The threat was still great, however, as the wind kept shifting and firefighters were forced to return again and again to areas they thought they had contained. Days later they knew a miracle had happened—their house had survived amidst total devastation in their area. At this time, the fire is 60% contained. Nearly 555 homes have been destroyed and 25 square miles have been scorched.
Fire. It is one of the things we fear most. It is no respecter of persons. It is one of the worst ways to die. It is one of the most difficult, painful things to survive when badly burnt. It consumes everything in its path. This thing which can be one of man’s most useful tools can also be one of his most destructive enemies.
Did you know fire in the Bible often represents God Himself and how He works in our lives?
God’s Presence – Fire sometimes symbolizes the person and presence of God. We see that in several passages of Scripture in the book of Exodus. God spoke to Moses through a burning bush in chapter 3, verse 2. The Lord came down to Mt. Sinai in fire. “And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.” (Exodus 19:18) He led the Israelites through the wilderness with a pillar of fire. (Exodus 12:21) Later on, the prophet Ezekiel described his vision of God as surrounded by fire. (Ezekiel 1:27)
God’s Punishment – Judgment and punishment by God in the Bible are very often carried out by fire. In Genesis 19 we see the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, their sinfulness and ultimate destruction by fire and brimstone from God. Disobedient priests in Leviticus 10 were punished by fire: “And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” (v. 2) Nahum 1:3, 6 tell us that He pours out the fire of His wrath on his enemies. “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked… Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.” His future and final judgment will be by fire, first for this old earth which has been stained by sin. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (II Peter 3:10) A new heaven and earth are created for all those to dwell with Him for all eternity. For those who have rejected Him, however, everlasting hellfire awaits. “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:10, 12, 14-15)
God’s Purification – The Lord likens the testing and trials we, His children, go through to purifying fires. Just as silver and gold are purified by going through fire and burning the impurities away (see Isaiah 1:25), in His love He strengthens us and causes us to come through the fires shining like gold. “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (I Peter 1:7, 4:12, 13)
It may seem strange to us that fire is a symbol of God’s wrath upon his enemies as well as a symbol of His love for His children. Hebrews 12:29 says that “God is a consuming fire.” His fire consumes the wicked and purifies the righteous. The fire of His judgment leaves the unbeliever separated from God forever. On the other hand, He walks through the purifying fires with His children, never leaving or forsaking them. Remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3? Jesus walked with them in the fiery furnace when they were tested for their faith in God. God’s presence is with us, as well, when we walk through the fires of purification. Isaiah 43:1, 2 says “…Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”
We do not know why God has allowed this terrible fire to rage in Colorado. It may be judgment for some; purification for others. His presence is there, nonetheless, for all who call upon Him. Let’s continue to remember the people of Black Forest, and others affected by wildfires elsewhere, in prayer.