The Pacific Northwest’s 2016 wildfire season gave way months ago to an early end. But the Southern California wildfire season, acting more like Oregon’s 2015 season, prompted a sobering observation. Glenn Barley, the San Bernardino unit chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said, “It’s to the point where explosive fire growth is the new normal this year, and that’s a challenge for all of us to take on.” California currently has a few smoldering “incidents” and is experiencing smoky conditions. A little surprising for us West Coaster’s though was to see Tennessee’s wildfires recently hit the headlines.
Reports of the explosive and indiscriminate fires referred to as the “new normal” suggest that we are inescapably exposed to forces uncontrollable by technological and human means. Often coined “acts of God,” these natural disasters and their repetitious images in the media can escalate fear, wear down hope, and leave us feeling impotent to somehow help. But seeing that these incidents are NOT acts of God, who is Love, changes everything. For centuries, spiritual seekers have found safety and comfort, even practical action plans, in holy scripture. In fact, a growing body of current research shows prayer to be associated with tangible results. (“Science Proves the Healing Power of Prayer”), and this applies to mitigating the fear and in many cases the physical damage caused by wildfires.
An onlooker at California’s Blue Cut fire, James Webb, found prayer very helpful in the fiery battle. While the other homes in his neighborhood were charred, his home appeared to remain miraculously unharmed. He attributed his home’s safety to answered prayers. But can prayers be offered in a way that dependably results in our safety in times of natural disaster?
The biblical prophet Elijah (I Kings 19:9-13) prayed in the face of natural disaster and experienced God’s loving protection. Under attack, he took cover in a remote mountainous area where he was suddenly exposed to an earthquake, hurricane-force winds and a forest fire. Through answered prayer, he realized that God wasn’t in any of those displays of violence, but God was in the “still small voice” which followed and led him safely out of hiding and on to accomplish a lifetime of many miracles. There’s also a biblical account of three Hebrew boys who emerged from the “fiery furnace”of a Babylonian king fully robed and without even the smell of smoke on them. (See Daniel 3:1-30) The king spotted a fourth person with them, which he identified as “the Son of God.” Finally, the Bible promises us that “safety is of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).
What exactly happened in the case of James Webb, Elijah, and the three young Hebrews? To call their experiences miracles is to write them off, in a way, as being of no practical concern to us, certainly not something we should expect to repeat. Yet many believe they point to higher laws governing the universe–laws which, when understood, can be demonstrated to some degree here and now.
In the Laguna Beach fire of 1993, 400 homes were evacuated with no hope of anything remaining after the blaze. Unable to sleep, evacuees Lona and Don spent the night hunkered down in a nearby McDonald’s, praying not for their physical home, which seemed a lost cause, but for their greatest treasure–Christian Science, or the laws of Life, Truth, and Love. They prayed for their church family, and to understand better that the spiritual idea of their Church could not be destroyed. The next morning their house appeared on the news, standing alone, unharmed, and with the phone line still ringing. When pressed for a scientific explanation, the local fire chief reported that “because the flames had actually touched the house and the fire was traveling so fast, he “could not discount divine intervention.” Their home was dubbed the “miracle of the fire.”
Miracles are often thought of as something supremely good but inexplicable. One might ask, though: Just because something falls outside the realm of current thinking in physics, biology, or medicine, does that mean it doesn’t have an explanation? Referring to the supreme goodness of God, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, “A miracle fulfils God’s law, but does not violate that law.” Later in her work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, she defines miracles as “divinely natural,” but something that “must be learned humanly.”
Experience suggests that miracles are often answered prayers. More than petitions for salvation, prayers can be the catalyst for seeing God’s law of Love fulfilled. Instead of invoking “divine intervention,” they can be a means to learn more of God’s continual and always present law of supreme good and to demonstrate one’s willingness to yield to His loving guidance and new direction.
Praying from the starting point that “God is good,” and that His law of good is scientific, one can anticipate goodness in the midst of random, lawless and victimizing strikes of nature. Appealing to and affirming God’s law of Love as supreme here and now as Lona and Don did, even in the face of appearances to the contrary, can bring healthy and unexpected resolution to any experience and make practical His promises of safety and tender care.