Devastating bushfires in Victoria. Floods in Queensland. Australia certainly is a country of extremes!
How should we feel about this? What should we say in response?
Should we echo the response of Danny Nalliah’s ‘Catch the Fire Ministries’, which claimed that the bushfires are the direct judgement of God on Victoria for its abortion law reforms?
Surely not! Every pastoral bone in my body cries out against this.
To say that some tragedy is the judgement of God against a particular sin feels callous, arrogant, and high-handed. Hearing this kind of talk gets me all churned up.
Although … to be fair, the confidence underlying it runs in the right direction.
It’s right to be confident that God is good. It’s right to trust that no matter how bad things get, he’s not powerless against evil and suffering. He’s the sovereign Lord.
There even seems to be a general sense in which the Bible forges a link between human sin on the one hand and suffering and evil on the other. Jesus himself suggests as much (Luke 12.58-13.9).
But does this mean that God approves evil? That he’s behind suffering and tragedy? Do we have to think this horrific thought?
Alternatively, are we locked into a kind of schizophrenic flip flop between empathy and a hardline insistence on pinning down the wrath of God?
I’m not sure I have all the answers. But I feel like David Bentley Hart’s work has some real promise — his hostility to Calvinism notwithstanding.
Check out his essay on the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. It’s clear-sighted and deeply compassionate. Read it!
Well, it’s my final year at that fine institution — Moore Theological College.
And I hope to spend a bunch of time this year reflecting on theological method.
My reading list is already longer than my arm. And I’ve barely even started any assignments!
But I have a strong sense that you’ve just got to start. A wise one once said, ‘Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh’ (Ecclesiastes 12.12). Throat-clearing can only go on so long.
Ultimately, you can’t help but begin ‘in the middle of things’ (in medias res for you classicists).
We always come at any topic with our ideas, hunches, questions, blindspots and other assorted other baggage. What’s more, this isn’t crippling but enabling (although the threat always looms that we’ll cling so tightly to our baggage that we overlook, distort or suppress whatever’s inconvenient or difficult to reconcile in what we’re looking at).
In Paul: Fresh Perspectives, N. T. Wright makes an astute observation about church unity:
We who live with the disunities of the late-modern church can easily forget that church disunity was a fact of life from almost the very beginning — from, at least, the dispute between Hebrews and Hellenists reported in Acts 6. Almost always it had, right from the start, at least an element of ethnic or tribal sympathy at war with the baptismal call to die to old identities and to come alive in and to the new one, the solidarity of the Messiah.
He’s riffing on an old, well established theme. The occasional nature of the NT letters, just like the polemical edge of the creeds, reminds us that most theological formulations are thrashed out in a context of conflict.
This ought never dull our passion for church unity — Paul avidly pursues it throughout 1 Corinthians as a precondition for the call to cross-shaped living.
But I suppose it should temper our efforts with realism.