Wednesday, February 11, 2009

the fires: how shall we respond?

Every morning I wake up and it's ok, until with a dull thud it comes back to me. Image after image of people who died in the fires. Rows of army tents with homeless people staying in them. Entire communities which have been wiped out.

My friend whose parents lost their house. A family known to me who died in their car. A school child who lost her parents and sister.

How can we respond to a tragedy like this? I've been thinking about this ever since I heard the news. How have you responded? Here's some of the ways I'm trying to respond:

  • Grieve. One of the wonderful things about God's word is that it doesn't pretend disaster isn't disaster. It doesn't supply easy, bandaid answers, as Job's friends found out. It's right to grieve. It's right to lament. It's right to ask God "why?", if that's what's in our hearts. God is big enough for our pain and questions.
  • Express compassion. If I know people who are grieving, I can grieve with them. I can walk with them through their grief. I can "mourn with those who mourn" (Rom 12:14). If nothing else, at least I can send a card, or say "I'm so sorry". But true compassion doesn't stop with words. It reaches out with practical help and generous giving (Jam 2:15-16). Meals, a place to stay, household items, the loan of a car, money: I know people helping in many different ways. How I give depends on what I have and my relationship to those in need.
  • Rethink my priorities. When I woke up last Monday, I lay and thought about what it would be like to lose our home: not so much the bricks and mortar, but irreplaceable small treasures like photos, the children's artwork, precious objects handed down from my parents. One day all this will be taken from me as surely as it has from those who've lost their homes. Do I value these things too highly (Matt 6:19-21; Luke 12:13-21)? Our old TV is pretty awful, and we were going to buy a new one. That doesn't seem so important now.
  • Teach my children. Our children have watched the news with us during the last few days, so they know what's been happening. We've talked with them about suffering and how to understand it. We've encouraged them to be generous with their pocket money. We've prayed with them. I was helped by Nicole's suggestions about how to talk with kids about disaster.
  • Be prepared to speak (1 Pet 3:15-16). In Melbourne at the moment, every second conversation is about the fire. It's hard to know how to speak about Jesus in a situation like this, because it's not the time to present a theology of suffering. Perhaps I could speak of Christian friends whose hope for a home in heaven comforts them after losing their home. Perhaps, if my friend is asking "why?", I could acknowledge my own uncertainty, and how I've learned to trust God when I can't understand, because I've seen the immensity of his love in the death of his Son. I would love to hear your ideas about what to say.
  • Take refuge in Christ. Tragedy is a terrible warning sign of the even more terrible judgement to come (Rev 8-11, Mark 13, Luke 13:1-5). In a bushfire, the only safe place is that which has already been burned by the flames. When God brings his just judgement again our rejection of him, the only safe place is Jesus, who took God's judgement on himself. May what's happened drive us and others to Christ.
  • Pray. Our church has encouraged us to pray:
  1. for comfort and support for those who have lost family and property
  2. for the provision of housing and food and schooling to those in need
  3. praise and strength for those who continue to fight the fires
  4. thanks for the preservation of so many people who escaped
  5. that God will bring good from this including improved procedures for future fires
  6. and that all who escaped from the flames will recognise the need to also escape from judgement by reconciling with God in Christ
I thank God that his word gives us words of lament for times like this. That it gives us a heart and hands to reach out in compassion. That it gives us hope for a home which can't be destroyed (John 14:1-4) and hope for a day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev 21:4). I thank God that those who trust in Jesus know that, whatever and whoever else we lose, we cannot lose him.


Lucy said...

It's such a terrible tragedy isn't it? From up here (Qld) it seems so far away - thanks for the ideas re: how to pray. I'll put them into practice.

mattnbec said...

For many of us who are a long way away, while horrific, it can be hard to know what exactly to do. So a thought-out, practical list, like this is a real help. Thank you.

I was particularly encouraged by a lady at my church this morning, who (when I mentioned the fires and that our Bible study book was written by a man from Melbourne) asked if I could contact him to ask if there were particular Christians he knew of who were in need. She was keen to send money not simply to random people but to partners in the gospel who were particularly in need. It was encouraging to see her thinking practically and in a gospel-minded way about people across the other side of the world.


Lian said...

thank you for posting this. I found it as a link from Erin's facebook. I myself have felt quite bewildered and overwhelmed with the magnitude of it. I have not lost anyone myself, but know too many people who have...I feel like I am facing a monster and can only stand there with my mouth open in horror. Thanks for the guidance.

Honoria said...

Thanks for writing this, Jean. Had trouble forming thoughts and words on this. God is with Victorians.

Andrew said...

It is really hard to know how to answer people or talk about anything to do with this issue. thanks for your considered response.

Ann said...

I live in England,some friends emigrated to Victoria one year ago, I've emailed and not had a reply yet,I've been praying and will continue to. Your post last week drew my attention to the fires.