God in the Firestorm

Were the fatal bush fires in Victoria over this last week linked with public policy on abortion? Was the loss of life due to God withdrawing protection from the people of Victoria? The newspapers this last week have provided the public with a glimpse of the difficulty we have in thinking about God’s participation in the suffering of the world.

Catch The Fire?

Danny Nalliah hit the news this week with his press release saying that he’d had a prophetic dream in October 2008 in which saw flames burning very high and uncontrollably. He neglected to mention that he’d also seen a a man firing randomly with a weapon at people on the streets. As he woke up from that dream he came to the conclusion that God was giving him the message, “My wrath is about to be released upon Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of the innocent children in the womb. Now, call on My people to repent and pray!”

Danny’s February 10 press release began with a statement about the sense of shock felt by the leaders of Catch the Fire Ministries, an Assemblies of God affiliated group. He wrote about stocking up trucks of supplies to be sent into the affected areas. But of course the press went straight to the offensive insinuation that the deaths of these women, men and children were planned by God.

As Peter Costello says, this goes beyond the bounds of decency. However, this is not just a matter of decency. It’s a question of the nature of God. Do we, could we, believe in a creator who stops fires from destroying people until frustrated by the final straw, the decriminalization of abortion up to 24 weeks from conception?

I have no doubt that Danny had the dream. What I do question, though, is his assumption that the dream was a sign of God’s impending judgment.

Alternatives to Judgment

We are fragile human beings living in an exciting beautiful and dangerous world. There’s no getting around the fact that no one is immune to suffering on this earth. While we expect to get through life with relative comfort, at least in the Western world, this disaster reminds us how quickly things can change. There’s a randomness in our environment that cares very little about who is where and when. The winds that blew around the state of Victoria on Saturday and Sunday were not part of a predetermined plan. This is the world we live in, the world that God has somehow brought into being, the world that God somehow engages.

Yes, I believe that God cares about the plight of unborn children, and the mothers who bear them. And yes I believe that God cares about the safety of people living in forests. I believe that God cares about global warming, and about the fragility of our environment under stress from drought and flood. But I believe that God is in it with us, grieving with us in our loss, giving us strength to find purpose for our future even in the middle of desperation and loss. And, I hope, we have the wisdom to ask careful and wise questions about what we can do to prevent such tragedies in the future, whether that be careful management of the environment or changes in the way we build in the bush.

Resources for Lament

Natalie Sims has posted a list of songs that might be useful in the wake of the fires and floods this week, online at Singing from the Lectionary. Dorothy McRae McMahon has two worship services prepared: Life After the Fires, and In the Grieving: After the Fires.

Other Opinions

Check out Barney Zwartz’s column in The Age, Failing to understand the nature of an understanding God.

Check out Mark Conner’s article, Are The Bush Fires the Judgment of God?. Mark is a senior minister at City Life Church in Melbourne.

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