Lessons from a bonfire

Aaron's sons enjoy a bonfire

Fire is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately, as I have occasionally been able to smell and/or see the smoke from fires that started in the hills surrounding Jerusalem over recent weeks. These fires were quickly extinguished by the fire crews, but the heat wave we’re having here means that more such blazes could erupt at any time.

Despite the threat of fire here at home, Israel has sent assistance to Greece to help fight the massive forest fires burning there, even as reports have come in from other neighboring countries including Turkey, Italy and Spain of large fires in those countries, and even in northern European countries where forest fires were rare in the past.

All of this was on my mind last Sunday as I led my wife and children to an urban campsite not too far from our home here in Jerusalem for an overnight campout. It was the first time we’d been there, but I’d visited the site once before and discovered that it is allowed, even in the summer months, to have a bonfire. So, before we headed out, I added a bag of marshmallows to our cooler and loaded up a wagon with a goodly supply of dead branches, broken wooden furniture and such that I had piled up in the back yard for this purpose. I had enough wood for a fire to burn for about 90 minutes or so, I estimated, and I hoped that would be enough to satisfy my two sons.

I was wrong on all counts.

To skip ahead in the story a bit, I got the fire started in one of the designated areas shortly after the sun went down but before it was really dark out and in less than an hour, all the wood I had brought with us was consumed. My sons, to what should have been my total lack of surprise, were not satisfied by this and pleaded with me to lead them on an expedition to find more sticks we could burn. I didn’t think there was any harm in looking, but I didn’t think we’d find much as I was sure others who had come there to camp before us would have picked up all the dead sticks and branches that might have been lying around.

I was wrong again, as to my pleasant surprise we didn’t have to go far before finding enough such dead wood to fill up the wagon and take it back to the fire for another hour or so of burning, after which we made two more such trips and found all the dead branches and even logs we needed to finish roasting all the marshmallows and keep our bonfire burning cheerfully till my sons were at least ready to go to sleep.

As always, I tried to find a way to use the circumstances to teach my sons some kind of spiritual lesson.

So I told them about the forest fires raging in Greece that Israel was helping to put out. I told them about even larger forest fires burning in Siberia, near where their mother grew up. I explained to them that God created forests and that the fires which sometimes burn there are part of the natural order of things that He established, that these fires serve to rejuvenate the forests by, among other things, burning up all the dead wood lying around (such as we had collected for our bonfire). But, I added, it was also true that these forest fires burned a lot of other things that weren’t dead, such as trees that could have lived much longer if they hadn’t burned, as well as animals and even the homes and businesses (and sometimes entire villages) that people had built close to or even inside the forests.

I then explained to my sons that by picking up and burning some of the dead wood which was lying around the campsite, we were helping to make sure that there would be less chance of a fire breaking out there and if one did break out, it would be easier for the fire crews to put out because there fire would burn with less intensity.

Then I told my sons that our lives can be compared to a forest in which there will usually be all kinds of “dead wood” lying around, serving no useful purpose but posing a danger to the live wood and other plants and animals in the forest. Because like in a forest, the supply of “dead wood” in our lives might get so big that God will need to burn the entire thing down to get rid of it, and in this process, a lot of living wood and other useful stuff will also be destroyed.

It’s therefore much better for people to go through the forest, and their lives, on a regular basis, picking up and disposing of the excess “dead wood” so that it does not accumulate to the point where God has to burn it all down in order to remove the excess.

This simple lesson is what I thought of to share with my sons as we sat enjoying the bonfire, and although I know the metaphor is far from perfect, I thought it was good enough to share with you, gentle readers. I hope it blessed someone.