Note: I wrote this article with the general Christian population in mind, and not for those who have lost homes or loved ones. If you have recently been traumatised by loss in this bushfire season, you may want to consider reading this article at a later time. For assistance with trauma and its symptoms, please access mental health support (for residents of NSW, click here).
‘If you stay behind to defend your property against fire, don’t expect a fire engine to be out the front helping. We’re stretched too thin as it is’.
The local RFS fire chief was blunt as he spoke.
‘It’s your decision whether you stay’, he continued. ‘But my family will be leaving. I’ll be staying behind because that’s my job.’
I could feel anxiety rising within me. I was with a crowd of solemn faced people gathered at our local RFS fire station. The outlook wasn’t good. You could feel the fear in the air.
It was the day before the Blue Mountains faced the most serious level of fire danger, known as ‘catastrophic’. According to the NSW RFS, a ‘catastrophic’ level of fire danger is where you’re recommended to leave the area, ‘for your survival’.
What a welcome to my new home.
I arrived the day before to our new residence in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney. Our earthly possessions are all packed in this one house. And we face the threat of it all going up in smoke.
We prepare our house as per RFS instructions. We place buckets of water on our front and back lawns. We plug our gutters and fill them with water. Branches near our house are trimmed. We pack photos and passports into our luggage.
We get in our car, and evacuate. We become fire refugees.
And we wait.
Thankfully, most of the Blue Mountains were spared on this particular ‘catastrophic’ day. Yes, parts of the Mountains were burned. Some houses were lost. At least one person died.
But it pales in comparison with what other parts of Australia have faced in recent weeks.
The South coast of NSW, East Gippsland in Victoria, and areas around Adelaide have seen fire devastate towns. Houses have burned. Towns have been isolated. And tragically, people have lost their lives.
So far 10 million hectares of land has been burned. That’s larger than many states in the USA. NSW alone has had 5 million hectares burned. And 25 souls have been lost.
It’s a very difficult time for many Australians.
And yet, moving to a bushfire danger zone has brought with it some unexpected blessings. It’s still a challenging time, yes. But I’ve experienced some surprising blessings from God.
1) Bushfires Force Me to Realise Our World is Dangerous
But Jesus is bringing a world where danger will be no more.
Let’s face it, we expend a lot of energy in trying to make our lives danger-free. From road-rules to playgrounds, from medicine to economic policy, governments, businesses and individuals spend billions in making our lives safer and less risky.
And while much of this is good (I’m glad we live in time and place of relative safety), we can start deluding ourselves that life is inherently safe. We can start to expect – even demand – that our lives be comfortable and secure (election promises, anyone?).
And so, when difficulties come, we’re thrown off balance. We’re knocked for six. We can’t make sense of it. How can this be happening?, we ask.
But living in a bushfire zone has corroded any belief in inherent safety. When a massive out of control fire is burning a mere 15 kms away (and within striking distance of home given another hot windy day), any illusion of safety disappears.
Instead, I’m forced to look for safety in someplace other than this world. I’m compelled to look to Jesus – the One who has promised to make all things new. When this world can’t provide the safety I so desperately crave, I’m driven to the promise of a new world – a better, resurrected world – where fire will be no more.
And in the midst of anxiety, in the midst of mourning, I find hope. A hope that no government, no RFS, no CO2 reduction policy could ever give.
2) Bushfires Remind Me That Worldly Possessions Are Temporary
But in Jesus, I have a lasting possession that no fire can destroy.
‘Possessions can be replaced. Lives cannot.’ That’s the refrain we’ve started to hear from our governments and emergency services. And they’re right.
The bushfires have put my possessions into the right perspective. All my belongings could go up in smoke – literally – sometime within this bushfire season. And so it’s helped me to remember that I’ve been given possessions that no ember attack can take away (Heb 10:34).
In a culture obsessed with stuff (which all too easily influences my fickle heart), I’m thankful for this powerful reminder.
3) Bushfires Help Me Remember That Our Earthly Future is Unknown To Us
And I’m encouraged to look to the One who holds my future in His hands.
If this bushfire season has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t take the future for granted.
Holiday makers on the south coast of NSW had a traumatising start to the New Year when fires ripped through their coastal communities. South Australians and Victorians who saw the awful fires burning in NSW soon had their own fires to contend with.
For so many, the future looked reasonably secure. But the bushfires took that certainty away.
And I feel this, too. This is the first time in my life where I’ve had to take life a day at time, not knowing whether I’ll have a house to live in next week.
And it’s a confronting thought. The future moves from being full of potential and excitement, to something best approached cautiously, even fearfully.
I know that this life has its share of suffering. Trials are my fellow travellers. But they will be redeemed and used for my good, and God’s glory (Rom 8:28). And I know that a future awaits that is certain. That will be secure. Where fear and anxiety will be no more (Rev 21:1-7).
4) Bushfires Help Me Remember That Real Security Can’t Be Found in This World
But real security is found in the One who rose again to rule.
Tension is my new companion now that we’ve moved to the Blue Mountains. I regularly check the ‘fires near me’ app, to see how much the fires have moved (especially on the 40+ degree days).
I recently found intense anxiety welling up within me when my wife took our car to pick up a family member from the airport, leaving me car-less at home with our 5 year old son on a dangerous 45 degree day. I had no way to leave if things got too risky. I thought about heading to the train station, but walking 15 minutes with a five year old in 45 degree heat didn’t strike me as particularly smart. (I ended up talking to a neighbour, who agreed to take us should we need to evacuate).
My life doesn’t feel as secure now that we’re in a bushfire zone.
And so, I’m forced to look elsewhere. Thankfully, there is One who provides real security. Not a promise of comfort and ease, nor of escape from bushfires. But the promise of eternal security, which no ember attack, no bushfire, not even death itself can take away.
No, it’s not comfortable living in a bushfire zone.
But the spiritual blessings of looking to the One who has overcome disaster and death – that’s a blessing that I’m thankful for.
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