AS the fire season was drawing toward the end of the summer here in the western United States, a new blaze broke out near our home in the mountains. I climbed out of the canyon to get a better view of just which direction the fire was moving. The situation seemed intimidating. Gigantic plumes of smoke were towering into the sky, forming a mushroom cloud as thousands of trees went up in flames.
As I stood there I felt like such a tiny speck in front of such a huge display of nature's destructive forces. But I quickly found myself thinking about God and His infinite power. Soon the picture before me seemed relatively small in the face of God's allness.
The prophet Elijah stood on a mountain faced with the belief that there was colossal material power in wind, earthquake, fire. And yet, First Kings tells us, he discovered that the reality of God's power is found not in destructive forces, but in what the Bible describes as ``a still small voice'' (19:12).
As I looked at the fire and prayed, I glimpsed, just slightly, the truth that God alone is the only actual power. Years ago when I was a firefighter for the National Forest Service, one of the valuable lessons I learned was how intelligent trust in God keeps us from being afraid. This didn't mean to be unwise, but it did mean, when on the fire line, not to be intimidated by what may seem to be a powerful force opposed to God's harmony.
There were times when my trust in God calmed me when I most needed it--once when a fellow worker and I were temporarily lost in a fire area, once when most of the soles of my boots were burned off, once when the crew talked ominously about the possibility of the fire ``crowning''--arching across the top of trees, sucking out the oxygen below. In such instances I've found it deeply reassuring to learn more of God as the basis of true nature. God, Spirit, has created everything and made it like Himself, so right where a mortal view of nature can seem to be devastating, God in His infinite goodness and merciful government is the reality.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, explains in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, ``In one sense God is identical with nature, but this nature is spiritual and is not expressed in matter.'' She goes on to say: ``God is natural good, and is represented only by the idea of goodness; while evil should be regarded as unnatural, because it is opposed to the nature of Spirit, God'' (p. 119).
I've found that the more conscious I am of God as the true essence of nature, spiritual and perfect, the less fearful I am of the destructive elements of a material concept of nature. Once, for example, some coals from a campfire landed on my coat. The coat caught fire and the fire burned my hand and arm. I prayed, knowing that injury and suffering are no part of God's wholly good creation. Feeling a deep confidence in God's presence as truly natural and the only real power enabled me to be unafraid. The sting of the burn disappeared. I was healed. It was a joy that evening to sit by the campfire free of injury.
The spiritual truth underpinning such a healing is effective in the larger scene as well. Our understanding of divine law--such as the truth that God is the real substance of nature--gives us the ability to deal effectively and fearlessly with aggressive evils. We don't necessarily overcome evil all at once, but we need to take the first steps by resisting destructiveness in every instance.
As I stood there on the mountain, the fire didn't instantly disappear. Far from it. But my own temptation to be impressed by its power began to recede. Other people throughout the area were also praying, I know, and over the next several days our prayers did have an effect. The winds shifted and people who had left the area were able to return.
As God becomes increasingly real and natural to us, we'll see more of the blessing revealed in the vision recorded in the book of Isaiah. We read there that God calls for fearlessness and then promises, ``When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee'' (43:2). We need never be afraid, for God's presence is always with us to fulfill this promise.