Lazarus and the Wildfires

Every morning, I read scripture according to the daily readings set out in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. This morning, the reading was part of the story of Lazarus from the Gospel of John. It ends with a scene where Jesus shouts, "Lazarus, come out!" and Lazarus walks from the tomb, covered in burial cloths. (Here is the chapter and translation I read from; this morning's reading was verses 30 through 44.)

I grew up going to an evangelical church. In that tradition, the miracles that Christ performs tell us that we can have a sublime joy that transcends circumstances. No matter what bad thing appears to be happening around us, that tradition says that readings like this tell us that the bad things aren't real. Whether it be death, devastation, divorce, pestilence, or apocalyptic orange smoke, true faith means that we know in our heart that Jesus will make everything okay, and that we don't need to be sad.

Now, if anyone would think that death is not exactly what we here in the mundus see with our bare eyes, it would be a person who raises people from the dead. If you can raise people from the dead, you don't really need faith the way we talk about faith in the Christian church, because you know. I don't need faith to make a cup of coffee, and presumably Jesus in this story wouldn't need faith to raise Lazarus from the dead.

So why would Jesus mourn? Why would he cry? Why would he be "greatly distressed"? The only answer must be that death is as real to Christ as resurrection. And so it must be true that, if I believe that this story is true, my faith in either literal or metaphorical resurrection sits hand in hand with the reality of literal or metaphorical death.

And so with these wildfires, with the smoke that people describe as "apocalyptic" — as my guide to action, my understanding of the fundaments of the world, I cannot as a Christian look at this and say or feel, "Oh, God will fix this." Or, "It will all be okay, there's nothing I need to do in response to what is happening here." Or, "Cheer up, this world isn't real anyway."

"The end of the world" is only a modern reading of the word "apocalypse," after all; the word itself means an uncovering, a revealing. And many things are being revealed to us: the consequences of our attitude towards the climate at large, our attitude towards managing our wilderness, the degree to which our political leaders care about us. I am complicit; I bought an SUV last month.

How are we living in God's world if we use our "faith" to blind ourselves to what has been revealed to us here? It is written in the sky itself.

By faith we can walk forward from here. But by faith we must also find the strength to mourn and to face reality.