This year there have been terrible fires raging in California and Oregon, with thousands of firefighters working to save buildings and people. Whole towns have been destroyed by the fires and despite all attempts at containing them, the fires continue.
I recently read that “as a last resort” the fire officials had contacted Native Americans to ask them how they traditionally contained fires. Of course, they did not have arsonists, negligent campers and power grids to contend with. Nevertheless, Native Americans lived with fires started by lightning and had traditional methods of containing them.
According to various sources on the Internet, “indigenous peoples have long set low-intensity fires to manage eco-cultural resources and reduce the buildup of fuels – flammable trees, grasses and brush – that cause larger, hotter and more dangerous fires, like the ones that have burned across the West in recent years.” The Native Americans halted the spread of severe fires by controlled burns, much like the “prescribed burns” that agencies now use. This is somewhat in opposition to well-meaning environmentalists that insist that all flora and fauna must continue in a pre-colonial (and imaginary) state.
Instead, government and local agencies now recognize the help Native Americans can provide and most collaborate with them for actions that have an ecosystem component of restoration and therefore promote collective survival.
But why was this a last resort? Mainly because officials have long believed they had the scientific brains and mechanisms to accomplish anything “we set our mind to.” Why ask the people who have lived in and off the land for thousands of years? Such is often the arrogance of our Western mind.
Another example: Picture a bridge built somewhere that now stands like a steel skeleton over an abandoned riverbed. (We have seen them!) Perhaps the engineers never bothered to consult with the natives, who could tell them the direction to which the river was likely to shift following a major flood. Instead, the engineers will now try to move the river back to flow under the bridge!
We Christians are often like that: caught in a desperate situation, as a last resort, we pray. It may not occur to pray before we were distressed, but now—as a last resort—we pray, and we pray “hard.”
Many people come to God as a last resort: they have tried alcohol, drugs, and countless diversions and, finally, they repent, relent and find God. Some do it from other forms of desperation: divorce, cancer, loss of job, frustration or simply seeking God—it doesn’t matter what. It is finally an act of admission that “I can’t do it, I need help.”
As a last resort, a teenager may seek advice from a parent; a sick person who hates doctors will go and see one; a Baptist church goer will sit in the front row (claiming it is to hear better); a brother will settle things with a sibling; and so on—we all know what it is to do things as “a last resort.”
During this pandemic governments have ordered the wearing of masks and social distancing, but for some this is only done as a last resort. Some bars and restaurants and business places were also closed for a time but are now open again. They will close again only as a last resort!
Fortunately, God doesn’t act like that: Jesus wasn’t sent as a last resort to help us. He has been ready since the beginning of time. He is the firstborn and our go-to for every need, although we often don’t treat him that way! Here are some examples of last resorts in the book of Matthew:
- The Devil when he took Jesus to show him the kingdoms of the world (4:8-9)
- The Roman officer who had a sick servant (8:5-13)
- The woman who touched Jesus’ cloak (9:20-22)
- Two blind men (9: 27-31; 20:29-34)
- The messengers from John the Baptist (11:7-10)
- Feeding 5000 men (14:13-21)
- A Canaanite woman (15:22-28)
- A boy with a demon (17:14-20)
- The rich young man (19:16-22)
- The parable of the ten girls (25:1-13)
- Judas repents and returns his 30 silver coins (27:3-6)
The opposite of a last resort is a first choice. For Christians, prayer, reading God’s word, communicating and fellowshipping with believers and witnessing to unbelievers should be our primary concerns, not our after-thoughts and last resorts.