Living in the Blackened Forest
Our feet trudged up the dirt hill, winding through sticks and roots. To the sides of me rose dark, mighty trunks, reaching up toward the sky. Their limbs were shorn off, leaving the tall blackened corpses towering eerily in the forest. The ash-covered pillars extended for what felt like forever–a permanent reminder of the devastation that burned through an ecosystem once teeming with life. Yet at the foot of the ugly trees my eyes caught the sparkles of pinks and purples sprayed across delicate petals. They wove in and around the destruction, showing off their life and laughing in the midst of the dark.
I’ll never forget that image–of death next to life. I’m transported there often. Last night, I stared at it all again, looking intently at the torched trees, and praying the colors of the forest floor would just envelop it all.
Yesterday I met a friend at a park and watched my three children play, while another mom got the worst phone call of her life. I laughed and joked, and felt the sun’s rays as my kids showed off their playground skills, while another mom faced tragedy I can’t comprehend. I watched the drips from their ice cream cones cover my kids’ faces and hands, while another mom walked into an empty room that would stay that way forever.
We have a lot of theological answers for why the fires of earth continue to rage through our world. Yet I love what Chris Morphew says in his book for kids- Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen? He writes:
“Suffering isn’t just a puzzle for our heads. It’s a problem for our hearts. When we’re actually going through something awful, I don’t think our biggest question is How could a loving, powerful God allow so much suffering? When it feels like life is falling apart, the cry of our hearts is something bigger and deeper and way more personal: God, how could you let this happen? Don’t you care?”
Perhaps you feel it too. Even if you know the tidy reasons and you know the “right” answers, your heart is left wondering, How could you let this happen? Don’t you care?
I know the feeling, and so do a host of saints throughout the Scriptures. They, too, lived in the blackened forest, and watched the beauty of the flowers weave through utter corruption and death. They experienced the heart-wrenching reality of life intertwined with death.
I wish I could answer all your specific questions, but I can’t. Instead, I have only what the hope the Lord gives me piece by piece. Before bed last night with our three children crammed together on the couch, we read through Psalm 74 together, and we were reminded who our Lord was-the Lord over this beautiful, and charred forest of a world:
“Yet God my King is from of old
working salvation in the midst of the earth.
You divided the sea by your might;
You broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;” Psalm 74:12-14
In the ancient middle east, the sea was often seen as a place of chaos, evil, and darkness. In other creation myths of the time sea monsters were said to be defeated in order to create the world. Yet here the Psalmist tells us that it’s not those false gods, but Yahweh that is the King of old. He is the true God who conquered chaos and brought order to our world. He is the true God who crushed evil. And just as he brought order into the world with creation, just as he triumphed over evil once and for all on the cross, he is actively even now working salvation in the midst of the earth, because he does care. He sees it all, and it matters.
Even now, as the chaos and destruction of the fires rage, our God is working his salvation. Evil will not ultimately prosper. Our powerful God will make the wicked of the earth drink the cup they earned down to the dregs (Psalm 75:8). Yet while we wait for that day, he weaves his salvation at the foot of the forest floor. He winds his delicate flowers of comfort, grace, hope, healing, and goodness at the base of our blackened trees. As hard as it may be to see some days, he is working his salvation even now.
But oh, Lord, may you come with life and renewal quickly. We desperately long for it.