The Desert and Disaster

I’m looking at a weather map of our country. The other day a friend in Minnesota reported temperatures in his area were above 110°, roughly the same temperatures we were experiencing here in the Phoenix area. Yet, at the same time, Yellowstone National Park had massive rains and snowmelt, isolating whole sections of the park. The flooding hasn’t stopped yet, so repairs haven’t begun, and it will take a lot of time to restore damaged areas if they can be rebuilt or restored.

Living in the desert, I have learned to hate the heat. I know Jesus lived in a warm, if not hot, climate, but things then weren’t this bad. Thank goodness for that, anyway. Imagine spending forty days in the wilderness (desert) with no food or water. Even a day without water can be a death sentence. We have news reports every summer about people (including homeless ones) dying of heat stroke and dehydration. Living in air-conditioned comfort can be hard if people can’t afford to pay the electric bill to maintain the a/c, lights, refrigerators, and the like. 

When it rains here (we usually average about 9″ per year compared to the national average of 38″), the hard-baked ground cannot absorb the rain as fast as it comes down. We get flash floods, which are deadly in themselves. Whole families have been wiped out simply from being in a dry wash when a heavy storm hits uphill from them. Trees, rocks, sand, dirt, and, quite often, household items people have dumped rather than disposed of properly speed down even gentle slopes and become torrents. Even the family swimming pool, dangerous as they are to unsupervised children, can become overfilled with water. There’s no such thing as being too careful in the desert. What may seem like a gentle dip in the road only an inch or so deep can actually be much deeper. Rescue crews are out frequently to attempt to save those who ignore the “Do not cross when flooded” signs. 

Some folks say that God sends us this sort of thing to test us, to make sure we trust God rather than the local weatherperson or someone hundreds of miles away making projections. There is the old joke about the man sitting on the roof of his house, surrounded by flood waters, waiting for rescue. A man in a boat comes by and offers help, but the man sends him away. God will provide, the man says. A helicopter comes overhead with a line and a life ring attached, so the man simply has to grasp and hold on. He waves it away also, saying that God would provide. He dies and comes before God. “Why didn’t you save me?” he said. “I trusted you would provide, and you didn’t!” “Oh, but I did,” God said. “Who do you think sent the man in the boat and the ones in the helicopter?” 

Individually, we can’t always save ourselves when we get into trouble. That’s why we depend on people like police, first responders, doctors, nurses, good Samaritans, and the like. We trust that our bridges are safe from collisions with large ships and tons of debris from floods. We depend on fire crews and ambulances to rush to our aid when we have accidents or fires in our homes or offices, and we get angry when they often take several minutes to an hour or more to reach us. We want to be saved, relieved of pain, and put back to normal immediately, regardless of what we did to put ourselves in danger to start with.

I’m far from saying, “Don’t trust God. Do it yourself.” My reasoning process tells me that God’s right there, but that by giving me free will, I have the opportunity to take care of myself and my own needs with God’s encouragement. I can’t always just depend on myself, though. I need to learn to recognize when I’m out of my depth and need more help than I can muster on my own. A child’s smile can help pull me out of a depressive time. A helping hand to steady me when I trip and start to fall can save me broken bones. A call from someone who tells me they were just thinking of me can brighten a gloomy day. A prayer shawl around my shoulders can provide a hug when there aren’t any humans around to give me one when I need it. Maybe God doesn’t exactly grab me mid-air when I’m about to fall or call me on the phone when I feel down, but I am sure God spurs the actions of those children and adults who give aid and comfort when I need it.

I may live in a desert, but God is there as surely as God is present by my river back home, in the forests of Oregon that I love so much, and the mountains that are so awe-full to me. I can be afraid when disaster strikes, but I never for a moment consider it a test from God, only a chance to trust God and do what I can to help myself and others. 

Image: A scenic view of the desert landscape. From the Public Domain Images site. Author: Gentry George, US Fish and Wildlife Service. Found at Wikimedia Commons.

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