Saturday, November 03, 2007

Living in a State (and a World) Where Wildfires Happen

By Robert J. Hutchinson @

There is something a bit eerie about promoting a book about the Bible while you watch apocalyptic wildfires engulf homes all around you.

That was more or less my situation last week as I did radio interviews from my home in coastal Orange County, California.

One day I was talking to a radio host back east by cell phone as I sat parked in my car on the beach, watching as an enormous plume of black smoke and soot rose just north of Camp Pendleton.

At dawn the next morning, I drove to a street above my house. With binoculars, neighbors and I watched anxiously as giant walls of flame crested a ridgeline on the Marine base, about 300 yards south of us. If the fire got into the canyon next to our homes, it would be on our doorsteps in a heart beat.

With the air full of smoke, my wife and kids prepared to pack our car with photographs and other precious family mementos, in case we were evacuated along with 500,000 other residents of Southern California.

There is nothing like a raging wildfire to remind you that human beings are indeed fragile creatures living in a potentially dangerous world.

In California especially, we easily forget just how vulnerable we are. When life is good, when there is money in the bank, we forget our true situation.

"When you have eaten and are satisfied," says Deuteronomy, "and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God..."

Just a week before the fires began, I was reveling in the glorious fall weather on the coast – cool sunny days, breaking surf, my kids playing soccer on putting-green fields. It can't get much better than this, I thought.

Within days, the skies were filled with an ominous orange glow and dark soot. Relatives arrived on our doorstep, evacuees from the Irvine fire. Everything changed in an instant.

It's a lesson the Bible, too, never lets you forget.

One day Jesus is being welcomed by thousands into Jerusalem as the king of Israel. A week later, he is being whipped by Roman soldiers and left to die on a Cross.

Things change in a heartbeat. Catastrophes happen.

The only answer I can ever give skeptics to the problem of physical evil – to the undeniable fact of living in a dangerous world – is that, given the choice, I would rather live here than not.

It's the same answer I give distant relatives when asked why I live in Southern California, with all the attendant wildfires, earthquakes, mud slides and housing crashes that come with it.

Put simply: I'd rather take my chances here than be safe in, say, Des Moines. I would rather live in the world, with all its heartache and pain, than not.

My wife and I affirmed this fundamental belief of ours in favor of existence with every child we brought into the world.

There is nothing on earth we love more than our children – and yet we knew when we had them that they, too, would suffer in our rough and sometimes dangerous world, and that, much to our sorrow, they would eventually suffer the pain of death as well.

The God of the Bible doesn't promise us heaven on earth – at least not in our time. Quite the opposite. Jesus himself predicted we would see wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines (Mark 13). He said we would suffer.

What the God of the Bible does promise, however, is that he will be there with us when we do suffer, that we will not be alone. "Do not fear, for I am with you," God tells the prophet Isaiah. "Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Is. 41:10)."

This may be cold comfort for the nearly 2,000 families who lost their homes in Southern California last week, I know. After all, my home was spared. Perhaps if it had been reduced to a mountain of ash, like those in Rancho Bernardo south of us, I, too, would be thinking about moving to Des Moines.

But somehow I doubt it.

There are wildfires in California, but also heroes – like the thousands of firefighters who risked their lives battling the blazes and the volunteers who helped evacuees with food, water and shelter.

Like other residents of California, I think I would rebuild. I would rather take my chances – in California and in a world where wildfires happen.

Robert Hutchinson is the author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible," published by Regnery October 16th.

Robert Hutchinson
555 No. El Camino Real, #A-419
San Clemente, CA 92672

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