‘I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendour of fire,’
St Patrick declared, as part of his famous Lorica Prayer. Lorica means Breast plate or Body Armour: a prayer for protection that is often recited in order to call on the power of God as a safeguard against trouble and evil in all its many forms. (You may remember that many of us were led to pray this prayer on Inauguration Day on the 6th January 2021, when it was clear that great danger threatened American democracy in Washington).
Lorica is the word used in Latin to translate the Greek word in Ephesians 6:14, that we normally refer to as the ‘breast-plate’ (of righteousness). We need such prayers across so many spectra. Only recently, it feels, we were hearing of the wild fires in California, Russia, Australia . . . Today the fires gripping the attention of the world’s media are the devastating ones in Maui, Hawaii’s second largest island, Tenerife (where the fire is described as the most complex ever) and Canada, where fully five hundred of the present thousand fires that are raging are said to be out of control. What devastating loss of timber and everything else!
Any who watched the recent ‘Race across the World (it was very good this year!) will have enjoyed seeing northern Canada in ways they will probably never have seen it in before, and realised just how incredibly limited infrastructure and roads are up there. Yellowknife, for example, the town all 20,000 of its inhabitants had to be evacuated from at top speed last month has just one 400 mile long single track road leading to the outside world.
Behind every statistic and home destroyed in recent fires, landslides and floods lie deeply personal stories. Apart from those who have always lived in regions at risk from fire, flood and drought, many have moved to such places in recent years not only out of a desire to dwell in more rural parts, but increasingly because they can no longer afford the inflated prices of houses in expensive cites. With it becoming ever more expensive, and even impossible to insure properties in climate-affected regions, so many are facing ruin.
Before we move on to at least explore in prayer is whether such fires are purely random and natural, or whether God Himself has any part in, or anything to say though them, let’s start where there is no need for speculation: by praying for those who have been most directly affected at ‘ground level’.
Lord, whatever the cause of each fire: whether arson, carelessness, lightning strikes or global warming, we pray grace, mercy, protection and provision for all who are, or have been caught up in natural disasters, and all the implicates these bring.
EXPLORING THE FIRE OF GOD
On Mount Carmel in the great challenge against the prophets of Baal, the fire of God descended on the sacrifice that had been prepared. That’s amazing. Fires ascend not descend – but this fire came from Heaven, just as it did in Exodus 9:23, 1 Kings 18:38, and when David offered burnt and peace offerings on the altar in 1 Chronicles 21:26. These indeed are awesome signs of God’s power and moving, but also of His emotions – how He views matters, and what He feels about them.
I thought it would be useful, therefore, to look beyond the wild fires that are raging around the world as never before in recent times, and that are imperilling so many lives and livelihoods, and greatly adding to the planet’s rapidly overloading of carbon dioxide levels.*
Accordingly, I found myself thinking through some of the wider implications of fire in Scripture. We know that there are at least three types of fire in Scripture: the consuming fire of God, (Deuteronomy 4:24 and Consuming Fire); the fire of God that burns up impurity, not in white-hot anger but in white hot love, separating the dross in our hearts from the authentic and renewing work of the Holy Spirit. It is written: Anything else that can withstand fire must be put through the fire, and then it will be clean . . . Everyone will be salted with fire. (Num. 31:22-23, Mark 9:49) And then there is the utterly welcome but sill divinely awesome renewing fire of the Holy Spirit.
That indeed is a dimension many of us may want to try to get to grips with. To say the least it is a far-reaching, and, so far as most people are concerned, a highly controversial topic. Was, for example, the thoroughgoing destruction of the elite resort of Pompey as a result of Vesuvius’s eruption considered at the time to be a divine judgement in response to what the Romans had done nine years earlier in destroying Jerusalem?
When we consider the floods drought and fire that have long been ravaging parts of America, for example, are these the partial fulfilments of David Wilkerson’s repeated calls to America to repent and turn to God, climaxed as they were by his apocalyptic vision of a thousand fires burning across America (these being both literal fires and a metaphor for violent unrest in cities as opposed to ‘out there’ in the countryside)? It is up to each person and church to sift and weigh such words.
Micah 2:3-7 is certainly challenging on this point. When the prophet brought a challenging message to the nation, the people were quick to say, ‘God is not so impatient or so unkind as to bring disaster on Judah. Stop proclaiming such nonsense. Yahweh would never do such a thing.’ But the prophet declared otherwise, adding that God’s words actually ‘do good to those whose ways are upright.’
Or as Isaiah put it, in his great eschatological passage,
‘For behold, the Lord will come in fire,
and His chariots like the whirlwind,
to render His anger in fury,
and His rebuke with flames of fire.
For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment,
and by His sword, with all flesh;
and those slain by the Lord shall be many.’ (Is. 66:15-16 ESV)
As intercessors, we continue to stand in the gap:
‘This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: The Sovereign LORD was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land. Then I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
So the LORD relented. (Amos 7:4-6)
*The carbon dioxide figures given in this article for the Canadian wild fires speak for themselves – but remember that they are already two months out of date.