Over the past decades, violent forest fires have swept the wooded areas of North America, wiping out huge tracts of woodland and often destroying entire neighborhoods. It has not always been like this. Although some fire has always been a part of the local ecology, these problematic massive fires are a fairly recent development.
In the not-so-distant past, fires rolled sporadically through the forest, not only leaving a smoky trail of devastation, but also bringing life. Fire transforms the ground layers of dead vegetation into rich soil—a process which otherwise takes decades. Rotting trees tumble under the roar of the fire, making room in the canopy for healthy new growth. Pine cones release their seeds when in contact with the heat, giving birth to new trees. So beneficial was this process that Native American tribes were known to regularly set fire to the forest to preserve its robustness.
Things began to change in the early 1900s. Well-meaning conservationists declared fire the forest’s number one enemy. What they didn’t realize at the time was that in trying to prevent destruction, they were setting the stage for greater, deadlier fires.
While the natural fires had burnt mildly and superficially, leaving the trees charred but alive, the new fires were another story. Fueled by years of accumulated tinder, they would climb the heights of full-grown trees, ending their lives in minutes with a final deafening clap. The accumulated heat would create its own weather systems—literal fire storms, where barreling masses of searing air would ignite the forest grounds in seconds, outrunning even a sprinting human.
Gradually, foresters began to understand the extent of the disservice they were doing to nature, and now, nearly a century later, the pro-fire approach is gaining support once more.
We often try to remove all suffering from life, without realizing we are causing a greater ill. It’s easy to forget that times of difficulty and trials are an integral part of life and can have positive effects, and we seem to easily lapse into thinking that they are a “sign” that there is something wrong with us, that our life is somehow jinxed, or that God has turned away from us.
Christ dismissed this reasoning by stating that good and evil are both liberally distributed in the world, with no distinction as to the religious or moral inclinations of the individual. “[God] makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”1 God is not some kind of Santa who only brings presents for the good children.
“In the world you will have tribulation,” Jesus told us.2 In other words, troubles are more of a guarantee than a stroke of bad luck. Actually, the process of tribulation can help us reevaluate our lives, shed outdated mindsets, and discover our priorities.
Hardship is bitter enough on its own, without adding guilt to the package. We could grow so much more if we would embrace our trials as learning experiences, moments of profound significance that equip us to help others. God “comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”3