October 29, 2007

€œDo We Invite Disaster?
By Pastor George Van Alstine

All kinds of “expertsâ€? are commenting on the lessons of the recent rash of fires in Southern California. One of the themes we frequently hear about from newspaper columns and TV commentators is that developers are building elaborate structures in areas that are sure to face continual wildfire threats, and people are buying these homes in spite of the jeopardy they’ll be living in. An October 30 LA Times article put it this way: “Ignoring nature, we build our way into fire’s path.â€?

It’s been repeatedly pointed out that there’s an ironic parallel between Southern California’s challenging of nature in building houses in wildfire-prone areas and the New Orleans residents’ building their homes beneath sea level, protected only by inadequate levees. When Katrina paid her awful visit, many of these homes were overwhelmed by flood waters. People in Southern California shook their heads in amazement that the folk in New Orleans could be so foolish as to live in such a vulnerable place. Well, now who’s looking dumb? And unlike the good people of Louisiana, we’ll probably go back and rebuild everything the way it was, adding some new developments even deeper into the mountain wilderness.

Fires and hurricanes are seen as “acts of God,â€? but the tragedy resulting from their affect on human populations often has a lot to do with “acts of man.â€? God was there first. Fires and hurricanes, volcanos, earthquakes and tidal waves, are all part of the rhythm of the natural world he created. We are the ones who, by our robust assertion that our desires are the most important, have intruded ourselves into living situations that put us into unnecessary jeopardy. We speak of these tragedies as “natural disasters,â€? but maybe they should be called “unnatural disasters,â€? because we have unnaturally put ourselves where we don’t belong.

Perhaps you’ve already thought of this spiritual analogy: What we think of as God’s judgment may really be seen as the natural consequence of our trespassing into areas he has warned us away from. God’s law was there first. When we go against it, we put ourselves in peril. We imagine that it’s the other way around, that God gave his law to limit our freedom and our pleasure. Actually, the law is part of God’s natural order, just as earthquakes and fires and hurricanes are. When we cross with his law, judgment is the natural consequence. He doesn’t personally spank us; we are spanked by the built-in laws by which his universe operates.

Some people misunderstand the New Testament teaching, “We are not under law, but under grace,â€? as meaning we believers in Jesus are now exempt from the law. This is not so. God’s laws are eternal and consistent, and breaking them always puts us in harms way. It’s true, as Paul taught, that keeping the law cannot save us, for we are saved by God’s grace alone. No, keeping the law cannot save us, in the spiritual, eternal sense. But keeping the law can save us a lot of trouble, of pain and suffering, of hardship and hurt relationships. If we, as believers, build our lives in conflict with God’s laws, we can only blame ourselves for the results.