". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Smoke and Wildfires: God Judges Pride

June 12, 2023

The morning of June 7 dawned hazy and pungent in Washington, D.C., as ozone, smoke, and particulate matter from Canadian wildfires drifted southward. To the north, New York City was encased in orange fog, drawing comparisons to the futuristic dystopian landscape of “Blade Runner 2049.” On June 8, D.C. air pollution worsened, becoming downright unhealthy as the Air Quality Index approached 200. The singular weather elicited every explanation but the correct one.

On the one hand, the mainstream media universally blamed climate change, with The New York Times hastening to assure their readers, “Human-caused climate change is a force behind extremes like these,” although they immediately admit, “there is no specific research yet attributing this week’s events to global warming.” The Washington Post was yet more explicit; one article hoping that the experience would “change [Americans’] attitudes on climate change” opened with the conclusion, “climate change dropped its calling card.”

On the other hand, right-leaning outlets like The New York Post are refuting the climate alarmism narrative by blaming the problem on “forest mismanagement in the name of environmentalism.” Townhall’s Gabriella Hoffman tweeted, “People need to ask, are policies inhibiting [proactive forest management] in Canada? What measures are in effect?”

While there’s room for a productive debate on the proper wildfire management strategy, both sides of the debate fail to ask an important question. By identifying the ultimate reason for massive wildfires on human action, they fail to consider the possibility that this is God’s doing. As Christians, we must ask this question.

As Christians, we must also look to Scripture for the answer. Immediately, we see that fire and smoke are signs of God’s judgment. “The Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven” (Genesis 19:24), and Babylon the Great “will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her” (Revelation 18:8).

Sometimes the Lord himself is described in anthropomorphic language as breathing fire and smoke. This is particularly true when he is saving his people, “Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him” (Psalm 18:8), or displaying his glory, “Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke; his lips are full of fury, and his tongue is like a devouring fire. … And the Lord will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen, in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire” (Isaiah 30:27, 30).

Sometimes God employs others as his agents of fiery destruction, such as the victorious Babylonians (2 Kings 25:9) or the mysterious, apocalyptic army John recorded, “By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths” (Revelation 9:18).

The truth is, “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29, Deuteronomy 4:24), whether he is protecting and guiding his people (Exodus 13:21), displaying his holiness (Isaiah 6:4), doing wonders (Acts 2:19), or vanquishing his foes.

Secondly, we see that God judges human pride. In general, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” write the apostles (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). This state of hostility will result in future judgment: “The Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up — and it shall be brought low” (Isaiah 2:12). This is part of God showing himself to be the one true God, the rightful judge of the world (see Job 40:12, Psalm 94:2, 1 Samuel 2:3). God judges proud nations: the pagans (Isaiah 16:6), his backslidden people (Isaiah 9:9), and even his chosen city Jerusalem (Jeremiah 13:9).

It should come as no surprise that sometimes God judges pride with fire. Jeremiah (50:32) prophesies of Babylon, “The proud one shall stumble and fall, with none to raise him up, and I will kindle a fire in his cities, and it will devour all that is around him.”

Other sins earn God’s fiery judgment, too. Scripture describes God’s judgment on idolatry (Revelation 14:9-10), sexual immorality (Revelation 18:9), and oppression (Isaiah 9:18-19) in terms of fire and smoke — as well as a host of other sins (Revelation 21:8). In fact, “The heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:7). These sins often accompany pride, which deceives men into believing they can escape God’s judgment.

Of course, there are biblical reasons to caution against automatically assuming that every calamity is a judgment for a particular sin. All the world is under a curse (Genesis 3), sometimes the righteous suffer (Job, etc.). But these cautions must not dissuade us from examining whether God is judging a person or nation for particular sins. Such judgment can even fall on God’s people, and is cause for us to consider our ways (see 1 Corinthians 11:30-31, James 5:15, Haggai 1:1-11).

We needn’t search long to find a reason why God might judge the U.S. with wildfire smoke. America is publicly and proudly defying God’s design for human sexuality, the family, and human dignity. The rampant murder, theft, abortion, and lawlessness would bring God’s judgment on any land. But most immediately, many Americans literally call June “Pride Month” — by which they mean not just pride in general but a particularly sordid twisting of God’s good design for love, sexuality, and even the rainbow.

On the very day when smoke in D.C. was most hazardous, President Biden planned to host the “largest Pride celebration in White House history, with LGBTQ families from across the country demonstrating that LGBTQ people belong in the people’s house.” The event did not proceed as planned due to the hazardous air quality, but instead of canceling it in fear and repentance, the White House merely postponed it, celebrating pride in sexual perversion on Saturday instead of Thursday.

Through Isaiah, God rebuked the nation of Judah for relying on their own strength instead of looking to him when faced with an impending, long-foretold Assyrian invasion. “In that day,” wrote the prophet:

“You looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest, and you saw that the breaches of the city of David were many. You collected the waters of the lower pool, and you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool. But you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago.” (Isaiah 22:8-11)

What is most interesting about this rebuke is that it does not chide, for example, wicked King Ahaz (compare Isaiah 7) but good King Hezekiah. We read elsewhere that Hezekiah collected water in Jerusalem (2 Kings 20:20) and fortified the wall (2 Chronicles 32:5). You might remember that Hezekiah led one of Judah’s most extensive public revivals, cleansing the temple, restoring worship of the one true God, celebrating Passover, organizing priests, and destroying idols throughout the land (2 Chronicles 29-31). Yet it was “after these things and these acts of faithfulness” (2 Chronicles 32:1) that Assyria invaded, prompting these preparations for a siege. In this context, Isaiah rebukes Judah not for fortifying their city, but for failing to look to God or consider their own need for repentance.

Isaiah continued:

“In that day the Lord God of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth; and behold, joy and gladness, killing oxen and slaughtering sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ The Lord of hosts has revealed himself in my ears: ‘Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you until you die,’ says the Lord God of hosts.” (Isaiah 22:12-14)

The Assyrian invasion should have prompted Judah to consider how far they had strayed from God’s law. They should have continued in repentance. Instead, after an emotional high, they returned to the same nihilistic hedonism and heart-idolatry that offended God at first. In public calamity, deep soul-searching and repentance are appropriate. Those who party and celebrate instead of mourning over their sin simply reveal a hard heart, which only intensifies their sin in God’s eyes.

Obviously, America differs from ancient Judah in significant ways — not in America’s favor. Israel was God’s chosen people, his covenant possession, and the place where he made his name to dwell. The entire nation had recently expressed public repentance for their sins. America neither bears God’s name in a special way nor demonstrates Israel’s repentance. Despite the privilege of living at a time when the revelation of Jesus Christ is widely available and the Holy Spirit of God indwells his people, America as a whole seems literally hell-bent on sticking its finger in God’s eye.

Yet there is hope. A few days of unhealthy air, blown in from fires hundreds of miles away, is not a final judgment. By withholding the full fury of his wrath against sin, God designs non-fatal judgments to prod sinners to repent before it is too late. In his mercy, God is offering yet another opportunity to repent to a guilty, proud nation that does not deserve it. The question is, will America — and God’s people in America — weep and mourn over sin, or carelessly indulge our own pleasures?

Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.