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Life Coming From The Ashes

While visiting Glacier National Park this summer, in addition to the majestic views, my wife and I were struck by the lingering effects of forest fires in the region. My wife commented on how she was awed by the life that came out of the ashes of the fire.

Fires in Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park (Glacier’s Canadian sister park) play an important role in the health of their forests. An article by the National Parks Service observes, “Fire is a major ingredient in the ecology of the Northern Rockies just like the snow, the wind, the rain, and other natural forces. Wildland fire is an essential component of this ecosystem and native plants and animals are well adapted to it.” Devastation brings life.

Fires during the summer of 2003 burnt approximately 136,000 acres within the boundaries of Glacier National Park. The 2017 Kenow fire burnt nearly 90,000 acres over ½ of which was within Waterton National Park. Today, as you hike along their trails you will notice the absence of the tree canopy protecting you from the afternoon sun. Yet, life is evident everywhere from flowers to wildlife; the fireweed amidst the forest blackened by fire was a breathtaking sight.

The fact that life comes out of that which appears dead is a testimony of God’s design. The lodgepole pines that were susceptible to the fires are a good example of this. Their life cycle is dependent upon fires; their cones are closed tight with resin that melts during a fire releasing seeds that have been stored for years. With the forest floor cleared by the fire, and sunlight able to shine through an open canopy, the seeds are able to germinate and seedlings quickly appear. Devastation brings life.

This illustrates the imagery of “beauty from ashes” found in Isaiah 61. The chapter opens declaring, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.” (Isaiah 61:1) The message is good news for those who are struggling and comfort for those facing hardships.

Verse 2 tells us that the Lord will make right the wrongs His people have endured. Then in verse 3, the Lord promises, “to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the LORD to glorify him.” (Isaiah 61:3)

What does it mean that He will give them “a crown of beauty instead of ashes”? It’s a metaphor for rebirth or restoration as seen in the life that comes out of the ashes of the forest fires. In biblical times, people covered themselves in ashes as an expression of their sadness or loss. Ashes were associated with pain, bereavement, suffering and loss. The Lord is promising that He will replace their grief with something beautiful; that they will be called “righteous trees planted by the LORD to glorify him.”

Just as it is counterintuitive that a forest’s health is strengthened by fires, so too is it that our spiritual health can be strengthened by trials. And yet, as James says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (1:2–4)

Should our lives be full of trials and troubles, can we embrace them? Can we see them as an “opportunity for great joy”? We can if we remember the Lord’s promise to use them to make us, “perfect and complete, needing nothing.” Do we believe this? If we will, we can trust that our trials will bring us life as the fires that burnt through the forest brought life. We can then look for the beauty left behind.

Just as forest managers tell us how fires are not only healthy but necessary, so too are our trials. God’s promise is that He will use them to make us, “perfect and complete, needing nothing.” Knowing this allows us to look beyond the devastation to see the flourishing new life regardless of if the devastation is due to a forest fire or a life filled with trouble.

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