Before them a fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. (Joel 2:3)
For thousands of Australians, these words are a grim reality.
A comment made when disasters like this strike is “Why would a loving God allow this to happen?” Ironically, the people who ask this question give God very little thought the rest of the time. They appear to think God should have no impact on their lives or choices, but has a duty to protect everyone from the consequences of their own actions and those of others.
In this instance, the cause of the Australian devastation seems clear. Climate change has become obvious to all but the willfully blind. The only surprise is its progression, which is faster than earlier warnings. Still, our capacity to deny what we don’t want to know has kept most of the world’s political leadership from really addressing the problem. (Too often, when the forecast is fire, we fire the forecaster.) Their constituents (that’s us) want action, but only if it doesn’t adversely affect their lifestyle. Wealthy industrialists successfully lobby to keep on plundering and polluting. The stock markets continue to rise along with the flames and the floodwaters.
Incredibly, in the midst of the current devastation down under, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to fiddle with boosting coal production while his country burns. Not surprisingly, Australia is ranked worst of 57 countries on climate change policy. The Prime Minister’s refusal to accept what is staring him in the face is, unfortunately, not unique and certainly nothing new in human history. God has been issuing warnings to us about our wrong turns since the beginning. Despite the lessons of history, we persist in not paying attention to what we don’t want to hear:
Although the Lord sent prophets to the people to bring them back to him, and though they testified against them, they would not listen. (2 Chronicles 24:19)
“I warned you when you felt secure, but you would not listen!” (Jeremiah 22:21)
We all have choices in this life. However, we don’t get to choose the consequences of our choices. Because we live in community, our choices affect others, and vice versa. Australia’s smoke has started to affect New Zealand, over 1300 miles away, and that will only get worse.
Why does God allow things like this to happen? I can’t answer for God, except to say that I believe what Scripture affirms: that as our loving Father, God can and does bring good out of all things, especially our mistaken choices, for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
As a parent, it’s tough sometimes to allow your children to suffer the consequences when they ignore warnings. Some parents seem to equate loving their children with sparing them the responsibility for and results of their deliberate choices. These parents usually ensure they’ll get plenty of chances to repeat the cycle. By “helping” their kids, they are in fact encouraging them to keep making the same mistakes, until the point comes when the parent can no longer change the outcome.
“When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied., they became proud; then they forgot me.” (Hosea 13:6)
As God has pointed out through His prophets, when times are good it’s really easy to move away from God. material prosperity is almost always the enemy of spiritual truth. Prosperity, science, technology — anything on which we become dependant becomes our security; we don’t see a need to depend on anyone or anything else. The only things that seem to get our attention are dire threats to our self-made security, and eventually life itself. Warnings are given and generally go unheeded. Consequences are much harder to ignore. Our security sometimes has to be reduced to ashes before we realize how long we’ve been playing with fire. We only see clearly when the smoke clears.
Does God love and want salvation for every person on this planet? Absolutely. What other parent would have the patience to endure for eons in loving such obstinate, willful, disobedient, ungrateful, self-entitled kids? What other parent could keep on reaching out to children who caused such grief to them over and over and over? What other parent could bear the enormous weight of sadness watching those He loves make so many terrible choices because they refuse to listen, to see, to understand the truth He has so plainly set out?
A good thing that could come out of these fires in Australia would be for that nation, and others, to get serious about what’s happening to the planet. The best thing that could result would be for them to get serious about a spiritual climate change that would result in multitudes realizing their need for God, and taking action.
Facing the realities of my mistakes in judgment has taught me some enduring lessons. My prayer is that I will pay real attention to what God is saying in every area of my life; that I won’t refuse to see or hear what makes me squirm. I don’t delude myself that I’m immune to the tendency.
If my life generates sparks, I want it to be because I’m on fire for God.