Last week, the smoke from fires burning all over the West made the air quality in Idaho absolutely awful. The sky was a grayish brown, and all those wonderful things that mark the vista of living in a valley--distant trees, mountains on the other side and a warm glowing setting sun--were gone. I couldn't see the mountains, the trees disappeared in the haze and the sun went from a fiery orange to a salmon pink disc from sunrise to sunset.
I live up on a rise in this valley and I love to look out my window and see the broad vista that I have. It was gone, enveloped in a haze that was relentless.
Did I start any of the fires that are consuming the West? No.
But I am subject to their effects. Why? Because I live in a community. I am not alone. My decisions affect others and others' decisions affect me.
I fear we have entered a time when everyone wants to do their own thing, and consequences are either dismissed, are not allowed to be commented on, or viewed as those eggs that must be broken to make a societal omelette.
Jeremiah, on God's behalf, laments,
My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jer. 2:13)
Before I moved to Idaho, I never really thought about water on a daily basis. I grew up in Los Angeles, and just assumed that every time I turned on the kitchen or bathroom faucet, water would come out. Our lawn was green, and the neighbor's pool was always full of sparkling blue water. We went to Malibu every weekend, and there was the ocean, proudly displaying its abundance.
Later, when I was married, my husband and I took a trip up US 395 to the Owens Valley. The area was a vast desert, with a long aqueduct running parallel to the valley floor. My husband said that in the early part of the 20th century, the developers of the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles needed water. Lots of it. The amount available locally would not be enough to support a burgeoning area, with people and lots of agriculture. So, this aqueduct was built to take water out of Owens Lake. Once the locals realized what Los Angeles was doing, they started blowing up the aqueduct. The city of L.A. used the National Guard to protect the building project. The aqueduct was completed and the water from Owens Lake was siphoned out, until no water was left.
When I visited the area, in the early 80s, a large dust devil was all that greeted us over what was once a beautiful verdant valley and lovely lake. We traveled up the 395 further to Mono Lake. It retained some of its grandeur, and local people then were fighting L.A. tooth and nail to prevent history from repeating itself. "Save Mono Lake" bumper stickers were everywhere.
The need and greed for water drove L.A. to seek alternative sources, and all of this is recounted in a wonderful book called, Cadillac Desert. It made me realize how water wars have shaped the West, for the simple reason is a lot of people want to develop, live, and farm here, but water was and will always be in short supply.
But wherever I lived, it seemed we always had enough water. These water wars and environmental concerns seemed out there, beyond directing affecting me.
Now I live in Idaho, and water is not abundant. People worry about the snow pack every winter replenishing the reservoirs here. I am sure as this valley continues to grow, (and it is) water will become a topic of deep concern, calling out for better management. I had lived in the mountains, where we had to drop a well. I live off a well here now as well, and every now and then I worry that my lawn may use too much water, and our well will go dry.
Wells not regularly replenished by rain go dry. It may take a long time, for much water has accumulated underground. But still I wonder.
God's lament over His people is they were no longer drawing life from the Source of all life itself: God. He equated Himself to a "spring of living water." In a desert, this is not just water for green lawns; it is fresh rainwater, caught and held in cisterns that are clean and maintained, to keep the water in them fresh. Bad water or no water: both are terrifying prospects in the desert. Without fresh water, crops fails, animals and humans thirst, and people sicken by having drunk unsuitable water out of desperation.
What did these people then do? They built their own cisterns, that were "cracked" and could not hold water "at all." Not just poor water was found in these makeshift cisterns; their cisterns held no water at all. Whatever water was caught leaked out and the people, who thought they had something, had nothing.
How long did it take to run out? When did the people notice that the water they needed was not there? Did they just go dig another one, only to find the same result of water disappearing over time due to cracks?
The water used by people in Jeremiah's day was still provided by God in the form of rain. (God could have ceased the rain to fall, but in His longsuffering love for His people, the seasons still came and went.) But the water went in and then disappeared, for the hearts of the people had cracks in them--cracks made by disobedience, spiritual adultery, ignoring God, blaming God, choosing not to serve Him, wicked behavior and ultimately not returning to Him, seeking forgiveness and restoration.
In fact, the most terrible crack of all was the claim that, "I have done nothing wrong. Surely God isn't angry with me!" (2:35)
Then, with that claim on their lips, the people,
First here, then there—
you flit from one ally to another asking for help.
But your new friends in Egypt will let you down,
just as Assyria did before.
In despair, you will be led into exile
with your hands on your heads,
for the Lord has rejected the nations you trust.
They will not help you at all. (2:36-7)
The man in the White House, the political party you adhere to, the church you go to, the conspiracies you believe sound right, the claims and evidence from this news source or another, your friends on social media...These allies "will let you down." Why? Because they are as cracked in their hearts as you are. As I am.
Fresh rainwater being siphoned from one cracked cistern to another will not work at solving the fundamental problem. Why? The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.
My heart. Your heart. The heart of this country.
A recent rain storm cleared our valley up somewhat, and we saw blue sky again. We all rejoiced. It was temporary, however. Why? The fires themselves are still burning.
Whatever cistern, whatever ally we are seeking, unless it is an remorseful return to God, His Word and asking for a new heart, the water we need will disappear.
Why? Because the problem is our hearts--our angry and arrogant attitudes, our claims to be on the right side of the political divide, and how our sin (because it is really rather small compared to everyone else's!) doesn't affect anyone but ourselves. Wrong.
But the distant fires' smoke is once again taking over our Idaho skies. We need rain--refreshing cleansing rain that will wash our skies clean and put out the fires.
We need His living spring water that will wash our hearts clean and bring our sinful fires under control:
Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)