A Place of Refuge
There are some things that you don’t think you will have to go through more than once. I am sure that most of us would not mind winning the lottery more than once. It seems like that would be a pretty positive experience. Having to stare down wildfires for the second time in just two short years falls on the opposite end of winning the lottery. Actually, it’s very much akin to winning the lottery twice, just with all of the taxes and none of the cash.
Our community was still dealing with PTSD from the 2017 fires. It is hard to describe what the last two years have been like, except to say that we are very much a community that is still recovering from the heartbreak and devastation that ravaged our town. The two-year anniversary, which we just reached, marked the end of several things. Insurance pay outs on rent was scheduled to stop. Many were hoping that housing, and especially rent prices would stabilize a bit now that things were returning back to normal. Homes that had been lost two years ago are in various stages of rebuild. Some homes have been finished, while others have just recently poured their foundation.
While many of the scars that have marked our town’s landscape have healed, the emotional and mental scars are still very much on the surface, pulling with every turn of the head, reminding us of what happened. A few months ago, a very good and dearly loved friend shared with me that even though it had almost been two years she was still so sad. She felt like she shouldn’t be. Though she had to evacuate at the time, she did not lose her home. “I should not feel this way anymore” she said to me. “But I still find myself crying for almost no reason at all.” Some experiences, even if it was not as bad as it could have been, change us in indelible ways. It doesn’t matter how much real estate we put between ourselves and that event, it is still present in the back of our minds. The intensity and fear that was generated by the 2017 fires is not an experience that anyone who lived through it will soon forget.
As the fires raced closer to Santa Rosa on Saturday and most of the town was forced to evacuate, I found myself doing the unthinkable. I was wandering through my house, in the dark, wondering what needed to be packed up and what could be left behind. My kids had already gone through their rooms, choosing which items they wanted to make sure stayed with them. Along with Niesha they were on their way to Brentwood where we hoped they would be free from some of the anxiety they would face by staying home. It is a very strange and difficult experience to explain, walking through your home, gathering things, not knowing if it will burn down. It has none of the drama of hearing the knock on your door and having just moments to get out. This is instead a protracted and emotional experience. You have time to evaluate and think.
It was during this time that I began to meditate on the interaction of faith and crisis. The fire was still many miles away from Santa Rosa at the time, but it could be coming. So, what do we do, and what do we pray for? I sent an email out to everyone from my office (which still had power) that we would all pray, wherever we were, at 8 pm. I encouraged our church to pray for the safety of the emergency responders, that the wind would die down, that god would protect all of those who were in the path of the fire. Now I want you to know that I think it is important for the community of faith to call upon God in moments like this. We need to ask him to intervene, protect and deliver. But in the back of my head, I could hear the voices of those who will lose so much through this experience. I could hear them asking why God didn’t stop it. Why didn’t he save their home? Why didn’t he keep this from happening? How could he allow it?
Is this event, and God’s action or lack thereof, the crucible in which God proves whether he is real or not?
Here is the question that then came to my mind. What is it that we as followers of Jesus really have to offer people when crisis hits? We ask for intervention on the front end, but is that really the best thing that we have to offer?
9 The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
I love what these two verses have to say about our relationship with God. God is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. He will never forsake those who seek him. There is just one problem with these thoughts. In order for God to be a refuge for the oppressed, we must first be oppressed. In order for him to be a stronghold in times of trouble, we must first find trouble (or it finds us).
We are not promised that God will keep us from all harm and trouble. We are promised that we will have a place of refuge when trouble comes.
Now listen. I know that we would rather have God prevent oppression and trouble. We would prefer that he show us his love by not allowing things to happen to us. But if I am really honest with myself, I see that a lot of the oppression and trouble I face comes from three places: this fallen world, those around me, and most often my own actions or decisions. There is trouble and oppression lurking around every corner of this world. Could God stop it? Yes. But that is not how all of this works. God would have to take away our free will in order to save us from ourselves, and that is not the answer he wants for us. I am pretty sure that we would not like it either.
So, God in his infinite wisdom, does something better than keep things from happening to us. God is our place of refuge when the oppression and trouble come. He is our stronghold, the place we can find safety, when all else is beyond our control.
Refuge: shelter or protection from danger, trouble, etc.: to take refuge from a storm.
a place of shelter, protection, or safety.
anything to which one has recourse for aid, relief, or escape.
Stronghold: a well-fortified place; fortress.
This is an amazing promise from God. He promises us that when we face trouble, we will not be alone. When we are oppressed, we have a place of safety, protection and shelter. In the end, isn’t this what our faith is supposed to be about? That God is bigger than the firestorms that may come our way? Any of us can profess faith in God when everything is going our way. But you know as well as I do that it does not take much faith to be faithful when nothing is wrong. It is when things go off the rails and we feel helpless that our faith is put to the test. Do you believe that God is who he says he is? Do you believe that he is a place of refuge? Is he your stronghold?
Again, this is the promise. When we need refuge, we find it in God. We will not be forsaken, abandoned, or left behind. This does not mean that the world will stop burning. But it does mean that even if the world burns, our God remains.
I pray that you will find that God is your place of refuge. May he be your stronghold when you see the flames show themselves on the ridge. And may you experience the presence of the God who will not forsake you.