The Camp Fire in California is a pernicious fire. It basically destroyed one community, ironically named Paradise, and continues to threaten others. It has killed many and destroyed the material possessions of tens of thousands whose lives were spared. As I sit in the comfort of my home writing this, I can’t help wondering what it is like to have everything taken from you. In what state would I find my faith if I lost my home and everything in it?
The past month has been one of natural disasters around the country. Hurricanes and floods on the eastern side and wild fires on the western side. Wind, water, and fire have destroyed what makes up many peoples’ lives. And many, particularly in North Carolina and Florida, had no insurance to cover their losses. Everything is gone and little hope exists of ever replacing it.
I recently read an article about Mexico Beach, Florida, a small beach town that was literally obliterated by Hurricane Michael. Very little remains and the people are having to decide whether they can ever rebuild there. It seems the residents there loved the uniqueness of the community, but are now realizing, even if rebuilt, it will never be the same.
The word that keeps coming to my mind is “props,” the things that we lean on for support and security. Picture a new house being constructed. Early in the building process, individual walls are erected, but until they are tied in with each other, 2X4 or 2X6 boards are used as props to keep these walls steady.
In life, our tendency is to use props to steady ourselves and to feel secure. It can be intentional or it just happens over the course of our lives. Relationships, material things, health, routines, hobbies, and status are just a few of the things that can serve as props in our lives. But what happens when those are removed, particularly to those of us who claim faith in the living God?
We can get a glimpse of what this would be like from the life of Job. He is described as a righteous man in whom God is very pleased. But then Satan offers God a challenge: Let his props be taken away—his livestock, his children, and his wealth—and see what happens. Satan fully expects Job to curse God as a result of losing his props. The entire story of the Book of Job is focused on his response and those of his four friends to what happens to him.
Satan was right in assuming Job would turn from God, because one main strategy he has is to surround our faith with the security of a good life in order to convert that security into a false sense of faith. It is our bent to trust in other things instead of God. We can easily recognize that in people with no faith, those who may put their trust in their own goodness or their wealth, but how often do we consider ourselves prone to do this as people of faith?
It is easy for once solid faith to become mere veneer as its core is eroded by the increasing trust placed in our props rather than in the faithfulness and goodness of God. And, much too often, we have no idea. We are going to church, reading the Scriptures, and living what appears to be a solid Christian life. But is it? That is the question Satan brought before God in the case of Job, a renowned man of righteousness. Was he truly righteous or was it merely propped up by how much he was blessed in life? Peter brings up a similar idea in his first letter.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (I Peter 1:6-7 NIV)
So the question we must ask ourselves is this: If we lost everything in a fire or a hurricane, if our doctor gave us very bad news, if a person we love is taken from us, if we lose our job, or whatever we hold dear, would our faith be strong and deep enough to endure the suffering that accompanies these losses and remain intact? Or if persecution of the Church were to become a reality in our own lives, would we hold onto our faith or abandon it to save ourselves?
I would caution you not to answer quickly. It would be easy to answer affirmatively in the context of comfort and security. But, as difficult as it may be, we must imagine ourselves in the worst of circumstances and then surmise our response.
My health over recent years has become one of those things of life that I prize very much. Over the past four years in particular, I have worked hard to rehab after knee replacement surgery and open-heart surgery. I am now probably in the best condition I have been in decades. Yet, I have thought about how I would fare if I were suddenly hit with a debilitating disease or accident and my ability for physical activity was profoundly reduced. Is it a prop that I lean on far too much?
There is no way to know for sure until we find ourselves in the situation where our props are taken from us, but I know we need to be attentive to how much we are leaning on them. If our faith is not fully tied into the Lord, it will not continue to stand when the props are removed. And, as Peter testifies, the Lord is likely to test the genuineness of our faith during our lives. The question is, are we ready?