Australia Bible Christian Living Creation Politics Prayer

As the bushfires continue to rage, what might God be saying?

This is the follow up to last weeks column on the bushfires here and what is causing them.  It is a theological reflection….you can read the original here. 
australia fire
(Photo: Reuters)

Last week, we looked at what is going on in Australia and tried to establish some of the facts as to what and why. 

This week, I want to reflect on things ‘above the sun’; in other words, to look at this from a theological perspective. I immediately realise that there are those who will read this and immediately scoff and dust off their ‘sky fairy, desert shepherds, mumbo jumbo’ tweets.

All I can say is that this is not for you. I am not about to enter into yet another pointless presentation of the evidence for God to those who have a fundamental faith that no such evidence can exist. But this is for those who believe in God and wonder what, if anything, He is saying.

The danger is, of course, that God ends up saying what we want Him to say. So Christian environmentalists tell us that the bushfires are God’s message telling us that our Gospel is to save the world through climate action. Those who are anticipating the rapture/apolcalypse/millennium soon regard this as a sign of the end times. Others see it as God’s judgement upon Australia for approving same-sex marriage and abortion. There are still others who see it as a judgement upon Australia for the historical treatment of the Aboriginal people.

We hear what we want to hear. But what does the Bible say? Let’s think of it in terms of past, future and present.

In the Beginning

Genesis 1 tells us God created the heavens and the earth and all of it was good. But there was the Fall and sin, death, disease, dysfunction infected the whole creation. The Bible tells us of flood, fire, earthquake, famine and numerous ‘natural’ disasters. They come at different times, in different ways and to different levels of intensity. But there has never been a time, since the Fall, and there never will be (until the renewal of all things), when a pristine, pure earth provides perfect conditions for everyone.

A New Heavens and a New Earth

2 Peter 3 tells us that “the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”.

Peter also tells us that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

But he then goes on to say: “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”

The renewal and restoration of the earth is a promise of Scripture. The idea that everything physical will be destroyed and we will all go to some kind of ethereal non-material heaven where we sit on clouds and play harps forever is neither attractive nor biblical. A renewed earth is.

Ironically the current bushfires in Australia give us a little illustration of how that might be. Bushfires have been around in Australia before human habitation. They serve as a means of renewing the earth, helping vegetation and restoring the bush. The Aboriginal peoples understood this and often used fire as a means of control and renewal. Fire can be destructive but it is also a means of renewal. It seems as though Peter knew what he was talking about!

How shall we then live?

Genesis 1:28 tells us God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Although the earth is cursed because of human sinfulness – the Bible, after all, says that human activity does impact the climate – the original creation mandate does still apply. It’s not a mandate to exploit and destroy but a mandate to manage and steward – for the good of all God’s creation.

A few years ago I was preaching in a church in the southern US and I mentioned that God would “destroy those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18). I was approached by a brother afterwards who asked, “Are you a tree hugging communist?”

I admitted to the communist part but told him that my tree hugging days were over!

He informed me that: “We don’t need to bother about the earth – it’s all going to burn anyway.”

I responded: “That’s fine….if you believe that, I’m going to come round and set fire to your house…because it’s all gonna burn anyway!” I think he got the point.

To me, it is blatantly obvious that as human beings we should be doing the best we can to preserve and care for the Lord’s good earth. Amid all the arguments about the exact impact of human activity on climate change we surely can all agree that cleaner air, water and earth are a good thing? Sharing and using the world’s resources as faithful stewards rather than being selfish, greedy exploiters is the biblical position.

Humility, hubris and hypocrisy

But that means we must do so humbly without hubris and hypocrisy. As I write, Extinction Rebellion are marching in several Western cities (note not Chinese cities!) shouting “stop the fires” – as if anyone had the ability to do so. We can limit the effects but the idea that human beings can control the variable natural elements is hubristic nonsense.

The hypocrisy comes from those who demand that others pay the inevitable price for cutting down on carbon emissions while they themselves continue to enjoy their lavish lifestyles. There is a biblical bias in favour of the poor.  While Prince Charles says we need to deal with climate change before we deal with poverty (and yes, I know that climate change will affect many of the poor more), the Biblical position is that we are to care for the earth and the poor.

It is surely immoral to take money from the poor and tax them for solar and wind energy, in order to provide subsidies for the rich suppliers of that energy. It is wrong to effectively ban the poor from travelling because of increased travel taxes, leaving the skies free for private jets and the roads for those who can afford the excessive fuel taxes. Not all of us have millionaire friends who can loan us their yachts so that we can boast of our carbon free journey! I look forward to politicians arguing for ‘progressive’ fuel taxes that impact the wealthier more than the poor!

Prayer

Those who are proud and think they are in control tend not to pray. They don’t see the need to. Those of us who recognize that we are helpless in the face of the elements realize that prayer is the most (but not only) effective thing we can do.

“Ask the LORD for rain in the springtime; it is the LORD who sends the thunderstorms. He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone.” (Zechariah 10:1)

We must also avoid the apolcalyptic, panic inducing hysteria that seems to be gripping much of the Western world. I believe the promise of Scripture.

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

I don’t believe we are going to be wiped out by an asteroid, or reach the point of no return in terms of climate change. I believe that the Lord has given us minds, technologies and abilities to cope and manage with this broken planet until such time as the renewal of all things.

People mock the idea of prayer but perhaps what God is saying to us is a clarion call not only to care for the creation but to cry out to the Creator.

Jesus mentioned 18 people who died in a tragedy when a tower in Siloam fell on them. “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 18:4-5)

Maybe God is telling us to wake up?

I know that there are people who mock and ask ‘where is your God?’ on the basis of the fires still continuing. But what if God is restraining the fires? This extraordinary story of David Jeffrey and the Christians who prayed on the beach at Mallacoota, is one example we know of.

If it wasn’t for prayer and God intervening then I believe that Australia would be like one of those ridiculous maps being circulated which show half of the country on fire! Maybe, just as with evil and sin, there is much more going on than we realize or see? Our God is a God who restrains – and who rescues us from the fires.

Conclusion

The greatest human problem is not the bushfires nor climate change. The heart of the problem is the human heart.

Consider the words of American environmental advocate Gus Speth:

“I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy…and to deal with those we need a spiritual transformation- and we scientists don’t know how to do that.” 

Is God not calling us to repent and be renewed – before the renewal of the earth?

David Robertson is director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.com

Be Honest – The Place of Truth in a Post Truth Society.

29 comments

  1. First of all the thought of David Robertson the Tree Hugging Communist from Dundee – now there’s a thought!
    My heart breaks when I think of the destruction over there. Humans have a level of understanding and can plan and prepare, but the thought of the uncalcuable loss of animals is simply soul destroying.
    You are right though regarding God and His desires for Australia and all of us – He is calling us back to Himself. Never mind secular society, there needs to be a harmonic call for His church to come back to Him, to once again be in harmony with Him. Some may get annoyed and think this is rubbish, but the strength (and I don’t mean physical but spiritual) of the church hold together a moral nation. We have in many cases lost our identity in who we are as Gods people. What’s this got to do with fires in Australia? Maybe with the seed of faith that can move a mountain, that very same seed can command the skies to build up rain clouds and drench those fires. Is this just fantasy? Let us collectively as Gods people pray in the name of Jesus and exercise that small seed of faith. LORD let it be so in Jesus name – Amen

  2. David, I know this was a hard blog to write. My prayers are with everyone in Australia through this difficult time. I think my response to disasters is like that of anything that happens in our life as a result of the fallen world and sinful nature of man. What is God asking me to do in response to this situation? It may be as dramatic as giving my life to Him or to missions, or as simple as helping my neighbor who is suffering or afraid. While we pray for an end to fires and world peace, we do our best to be a source of solace to those around us in Christ’s name and to his glory, whatever our situation, good or bad. Just my thoughts.

  3. One of the best blogs you have written, and I say that as an avid reader! I agree with the renewed Earth theology and loved the way you linked the verses from 2 Peter to the way fire is a means of cleansing and renewal, as well as destruction. It is worth noting here that controlled burning, carried out as good and wise stewardship of the land, simply removes that which is dead and undesirable, leaving a healthy forest. It is the uncontrolled bush fires that do the damage.

    I I totally agree with you on how wrong it is to tax the poor to pay for subsidies for “green energy”, making a few individuals very rich in the process. The solar feed-in tariff, paid to people who paid for solar panels to be installed on their homes, is a microcosm of this; essentially eco-bling for the wealthy.

    The huge irony is that these socially regressive tax policies were enacted in the UK under a Labour government, while Ed Milliband was SofS for Energy! So much for social mobility and helping the poor.

    Thank the Lord that one day He will return to govern the world. It is a wonderful hope to look forward to.

  4. Thanks David. The following is part of a Clifford Hill article which might be of interest to readers also:

    Seismic Change
    You can see the evidence of this seismic change today in many parts of our environment such as in the wildfire storms engulfing Australia, and the disturbances in Nature – the volcanic eruptions, the floods, landslides, droughts and famines and natural upheavals across the globe. A seismic change has come with a teenage girl from Sweden denouncing world leaders and giving voice to children and young people to overthrow the values of their fathers. Their protests are linking with the rising spirit of rebellion against God among revolutionists and anarchists that has dangerous implications.
    3

    You can see also a seismic change in the outbreaks of anti-Semitism and the increasing numbers of Christians who are suffering martyrdom around the world: Jews and Christians together – people of the Book – are coming under fierce persecution from the world. The days are coming when they will be driven together to seek shelter in the Almighty.
    A seismic change can also be seen in the cultural battle developing in many nations which for the past 40 years has been led by the LGBT lobby determined to destroy the traditional family and to impose their lifestyles and values upon the world. This has reached a new point in demonic rebellion against the God of Creation by the attack on ‘gender’ which is already causing an increase in mental health issues among children and will disrupt education and family life in the coming decade.
    There is also a seismic change discernible on the political front. The Brexit battle will continue to bring disruption and division, not only in Britain but across Europe through the coming decade. But Brexit is of small significance compared with what we face in the Middle East with the growing conflict between the USA and Iran which has the potential of global conflict. The days are coming when we will see another attack upon Israel, bringing closer the times prophesied in the Bible. Where Britain stands in relation to Israel will be an important factor and I’m pleased to see that Boris Johnson, in the Queen’s speech is to ban boycotts of Israeli products and he sent a Hanukkah greeting British Jews.
    Truth and Deception
    The conflict between truth and deception has decisively increased. It is a battle in which we are all involved. Foremost in the conflict is the church, as guardian of the word of God, charged with the responsibility for declaring God’s truth to the world. In Matthew 15, where Jesus says that every plant not planted by God will be pulled up, he also confronted the religious leaders of his day: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men’.”
    We have a similar situation today and every Bible believing Christian has to make a personal decision as to where they stand in the battle for truth. Of course, we need each other. The community of believers is of great importance today – just as it was when believers faced the hostility of the Roman Empire. This is why the Holy Spirit has been drawing together believers in small groups to study the word of God and to pray. But being in a small group does not mean that we shut ourselves away from the wider field of conflict – from our calling to be witnesses in our family, among our friends and acquaintances and also to take our stand for truth within the structures of the church if possible. We each have to make a decision of where we should be and to ensure that we are right before the Lord.

  5. David
    Very many thanks for this
    The best yet
    I have increasing respect for Boris Johnstona and am thankful that
    the Lord has placed him as our PM
    We miss you both so much
    With love to Annabel and yourself
    Elizabeth W

  6. Would any of you Christians be willing to explain the load of rubbish on this site to the people who lost everything?

    1. Yes more than happy. Would you like to explain why you think it is a load of rubbish? And please try to avoid falsehoods, commenting on what is not being said, abuse and ignorance in your reply….much appreciated.

    2. As someone tho lost everything in previous fires (before climate change was a thing), I agree with David that you should explain why it’s a load of rubbish.

  7. Thank you, David, thought-provoking as always. I agree that it’s unfair to effectively stop the poor from travelling by travel taxes, making travel a luxury available only to some. But what’s going to happen if we don’t? Maybe doing this is the lesser of two evils compared to climate change, especially compared to its effect on some of the poor in the developing world? Maybe it’s more important to preserve the planet than to keep travel available to all.

    1. How about the rich stopping travelling – or paying even more. We don’t have the ability to preserve the planet – and stopping the poor travelling is certainly not going to do it!

      1. I’d be OK with the rich paying more than the poor. But don’t you think cutting down carbon dioxide emissions would probably slow down global warming? You said, ‘as human beings we should be doing the best we can to preserve and care for the Lord’s good earth.’ Isn’t cutting right down on air travel one way to do that?

        Even if we’re not sure how much global warming is caused by carbon dioxide, is it worth taking the risk and not cutting down?

      2. Hi Alissa – thanks….I wish it were as simple as that. Yes I do think that we should seek to reduce carbon emissions….but unless China and India join in (amongst others) then we are wasting our time. What bothers me is those rich hypocrites who fly to conferences to discuss how they can stop other people flying!

      3. I agree that unless China and India join in we’re wasting our time. I’d still like the UK to do what it can to cut down CO2 by passing laws that cause people to travel less by air. I’d still like us to do what we can!

        I am hoping that flying will become more socially unacceptable, and instead of flying to conferences people will Skype where possible.

      4. Yes – I think we should cut down on flying – but thats only a small part of the problem….and its a really bad idea to cut out face to face personal contact.

  8. Thank you.

    We are in the book of Joel in my church this week and the fires in Australia came very much to mind as I was reading it.

    “To you, Lord, I call,
    for fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness
    and flames have burned up all the trees of the field.
    Even the wild animals pant for you;
    the streams of water have dried up
    and fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness.”

    Joel tells the people to turn back to God in repentence and to ask for help. Very much as you say here “perhaps what God is saying to us is a clarion call not only to care for the creation but to cry out to the Creator.” He also warns of the greater and more terrible day of judgement to come – very much like Jesus’ response about the tower of Siloam you highlighted. Those who call on the Lord will be saved. There is a lovely picture of the restoration and renewal God promises.

    Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
    for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
    The trees are bearing their fruit;
    the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
    Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
    for he has given you the autumn rains
    because he is faithful.
    He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.
    The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
    the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

  9. “note not Chinese cities!”

    One wonders why you went to the safe (being white British Christian) to Australia as opposed to say, China? Its one thing to evangelise when you are near your family, your friends and people like you but another to be brave and go to places where what you have to say is unpopular.

    Also, I get that you aren’t a fan of reducing pollution by reducing the number of flights. After all, you are the one who flies from Oz to Scotland for a speaking engagement. And how many times have you covered flights and your journeys in this blog. Be honest and at least state that reducing flights would seriously cramp your international lifestyle.

    1. I wasn’t invited to China and I don’t speak Chinese….your atheist logic is a bit weird! However it has always been my ambition to go to China – which is why I am learning Chinese. There are also tens of thousands of Chinese in Sydney and I often speak at Chinese churches. I will be going to Korea in Feb and hope to get invited to China as well!

      Your logic is also a bit twisted…you are telling me to go to China and not to travel! As for my ‘international lifestyle’. In the past 12 months I have been in two countries – the UK and Australia – hardly an international lifestyle. I actually do believe in reducing pollution by reducing the number of flights not least because I hate flying.

      I hate to bother you with logic and facts – but since you are embarrassing yourself and your cause so much I might as well assist you. Are you aware that plane emissions account for only 2% of the anthropogenic emissions of carbon? More than matched by one volcanic eruption! Your pathetic virtue signalling is not really going to make any difference….

  10. “… it’s a really bad idea to cut out face to face personal contact.”

    I agree. Which makes it odd that your god should forego such an effective means of communication, and instead use natural disasters such as these bushfires to get his message across.

    1. But he didn’t. He came in person…..and he sends millions of his ambassadors all over the world. Of course I doubt that you will listen to any such because you have already closed your mind to the possibility. The problem is not the message, or the messenger – its the refusal to hear….

  11. Re flying, it is responsible for only 2% of global CO2 emissions, within that, long-haul flying causes 1.6%, with the remaining 0.4 due to everything else. Business jets’ emissions are a tiny fraction if that 0.4%.

    So everyone is getting stressed over this 2%, which helps to sustain business, commerce, tourism, families and millions of jobs. How about instead getting concerned about China and India with their filthy coal-burning power stations and their total emissions together approaching 50% of the global total? If ALL aviation stopped tomorrow it would not make a jot of difference; emissions growth in developing countries would swallow up the savings in months.

    This article covers it nicely:

    https://simpleflying.com/flight-shame-irresponsible-ignorant-and-dangerous/

    Also take a look at withouthotair.com if interested in more detailed analysis.

  12. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22)
    Does this promise mean that we won’t reach the point of no-return in climate change, as you suggest ?
    If the earth got hotter by 6 or 7 degrees, leading to massive displacement of peoples, famine, extinction of species, much more catastrophic fires and flooding etc. could we say that cold and heat, summer and winter had ceased?
    Genesis 8 tells us that God will never again send a universal judgement as severe as the flood, but that doesn’t rule out very much. Already in the 14th century, our good and loving God allowed, in his mysterious purposes, the Black Death to wipe out a third of Europe’s population. It doesn’t seem to me that we can exclude a worldwide disaster of similar proportions on theological grounds. I fear that encouraging people to think we can may lead us into an attitude of foolish complacency.
    Fair point about the hypocrisy of the rich, but doesn’t that point argue in favour of those Western environmentalists who want to put pressure on the leaders of their prosperous nations to set the example in terms of environmental policy by unilaterally limiting their greenhouse gas emissions (rather than waiting for the much poorer Indians and Chinese to do so) ?
    Yours,
    Peter Calvert (an appreciative reader)

    1. Yes I do think it means that – and that we will not be wiped out by an asteroid. God is not subject to random forces.

      Yes – there can and will be worldwide disasters – I think the Bible foretells those. But we will not kill the planet.

      I find that the environmentalists usually come from the rich – they are the ones who can afford it!

      Setting an example is an act of faith which I think is foolish. We should what is right because it is right…not because we think others will be shamed into following us…

      1. Thanks David. Really appreciate your taking the time to reply.
        Not sure if our disagreement is primarily about the meaning of Genesis 8 or about the meaning of “point of no return in climate change”. If you understand it to mean the point beyond which the destruction of life on earth or of the human race becomes inevitable, then we can agree that Genesis 8 rules that out.
        But I think the phrase is more often used to mean a point beyond which it will be impossible for human actions, however radical, to prevent global temperatures rising to the sort of levels that would cause catastrophic unbalancing of weather systems, massive extinction of species, sea level rises, famines, wars etc. I don’t see how Genesis 8 can be construed to rule that out. Why should God protect us from the consequences of our own failure to steward wisely the earth he has lent us in trust ?

  13. David,

    Enjoyed your post.
    I guess from one of your early paragraphs that you are a young earth creationists regarding the original creation as pristine beyond the experience of violent storms, earthquakes, even animal death so providing perfect conditions. If this is so there are some serious issues with it from a biblical point of view. That death entered the human family as a result of sin is clear, but to suppose Paradise was perfect in the way you suggest flies in the face of the absence of eternal life (only in prospect) and contrasts with conditions in the world to come when food will not be needed, marriage is superseded etc. Further, there were different environments in the world of Genesis 2 – desert plants in arid areas and other ground suitable for cultivation.
    That there were hazards and dangers pre-fall can be admitted but God’ providential care protected our first parents.
    I’m glad you referred to 2 Peter 3:10 quoting the NIV ‘will be laid bare’. The KJV ‘will be burned up’ reflects a textual variant arising from not understanding how the literal ‘will be found’ fits the context. The earth will not be a total ruin but purged and transformed to be the home of righteousness.

      1. I’m glad about that, David. But your language suggests otherwise so you might think about rephrasing statements such as “But there was the Fall and sin, death, disease, dysfunction infected the whole creation. The Bible tells us of flood, fire, earthquake, famine and numerous ‘natural’ disasters. They come at different times, in different ways and to different levels of intensity. But there has never been a time, since the Fall, and there never will be (until the renewal of all things), when a pristine, pure earth provides perfect conditions for everyone.”

        Rowland

    1. I would suggest that David worded it that way, because that is what the Bible teaches. That it fits with a ‘young earth’ view is to be expected, because a ‘young’ earth is clearly what the Bible teaches.
      I don’t understand the supposed problems you mention, but even so, I’d say that you encounter a lot more problems going the other way, including the very explicit claims and multiple indications that the earth was created around 6000 years ago.
      I would add that there was no real thought in the church that the world was older than that until people such as James Hutton and Charles Lyell adopted an anti-biblical position to argue that it was much older. This point alone suggests that just looking at the biblical text—as opposed to extrabiblical claims—leads one to believe that the world is only that old, a point conceded by a number of old earth creationists.

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