Remembering the California Fires of 2018: A Lament for Paradise, California

“What thing shall I take to witness for thee? what thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? what shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? for thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?” (Lamentations 2:13)

At times of utter devastation, where the possibility of rebuilding seems distant if not impossible, when lives and livelihoods and dwellings have been laid to waste and futures put on hold, it is in stories of overcoming and angels that we are to take refuge.

Laments over the destruction of cities were frequent in Biblical times, dating back to the Sumerian laments of the second millenium BCE. And while most laments were given at a time of rebuilding and hope, the book of Lamentations in the Bible is different: God does not answer the lament of the people as they cry out to Him. They are left there, forsaken, even at the end of the book. By the end of Lamentations, there are no hopes of rebuilding the Temple that has been destroyed; instead, the people are left to their mourning. And so when I heard of the destruction of an entire city in November, my mind went back to Lamentations and I read it again.

Eyewitness accounts have described the Camp Fire of Butte County, California, which razed the city of Paradise, as apocalyptic. Indeed, one look at pictures of it confirms that it had the flavor of what we can only imagine the end of the world will be like. As Christians, we are called to look for hope. But how is this even possible? And how will the victims of the fire not be justifiably outraged at even the slightest suggestion of such a thing?

And yet, even here, angels can be found amidst the ruins and devastation:

Eva Walker was one of many trapped in the fire and trying to escape. And like so many, she eventually lost all hope of being rescued. While she thought she had been saved when taken in by fire fighters in their fire truck, she discovered that even this did not guarantee survival. As the flames pressed still tighter around the truck, she became increasingly alarmed. So did the firefighters.

…and in their time of greatest need, one of them prayed to the Lord.

Hear now their testimony of survival and of overcoming, which aired on 60 Minutes several days ago:

Eva Walker: The bushes were catching on fire. The trees were on fire. So you’re moving to get away from the flames. But there’s nowhere to move to.

She thought she’d been saved when the strike team pulled her into the truck. Captain Jessen made a desperate radio call for air support but the smoke was too thick, the winds too strong for help from above. Firefighter Casey Peck quietly started to pray.   

Casey Peck: I was just thinking to myself, just praying like, “Please, Lord, be merciful. And– watch over us. Watch over our families.”

Bill Whitaker: You were praying for your life?

Casey Peck: Yeah.

Just then, through the darkness, two lights appeared. A firefighter driving a bulldozer responded to Jessen’s call for help and started clearing an escape route.  

Eva Walker: And all of a sudden, the bulldozer who I swear to God is an angel, was the one who came through. I don’t know where that man came from. I mean, who does that? Who drives into the flames? He did.

Bill Whitaker: You called him an angel?

Eva Walker: Called him an angel. He saved all of us.

Her angel was bulldozer driver Joe Kennedy.

 

We must look to stories of hope, and pray to the Lord even now, when it seems he has abandoned us…

“Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street. Behold, O Lord, and consider to whom thou hast done this…” (Lamentations 2:19)

Amen.

 

——————————————–

60 Minutes interview transcript:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paradise-lost-inside-california-camp-fire-60-minutes/

A place to donate:

https://buttecountyrecovers.org/give

 

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