One could be forgiven for taking a somewhat pessimistic view of things here in the land down-under at present. The State of Victoria has once again been plagued by particularly nasty summer bushfires. Up here, in our neck of the woods, drought conditions are going hand-in-hand with an escalation of suicides on the farm. A story doing the rounds at the moment is of the farmer who couldn’t sell his cattle because they were so out-of-condition. He spent a day going out and shooting them all and then turned the gun on himself.
Dorothea Mackellar wrote a poem, “My Country”, which we had to memorise in primary school. One poignant verse mentions the terror of Australia –along with the beauty.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!
But at present the “terror” is not only in fires and drought. In fairly quick succession the nation’s three car manufacturers all announced that they are ceasing production in Australia. The shutting down of Ford, Holden and Toyota by 2017 is going to leave us with some immense employment problems as tens of thousands of people are going to be out of work.
In the “Lucky Country” it seems we’re presently a little short on luck. But then, we Christians know, that there’s no such things as luck anyway. We believe in the guiding hand of God – or what we call God’s Providence.
But that only raises another question. Why does God allow those “droughts and flooding rains”? And why does He seem to be allowing our national economy to go down the gurgler, as our biggest manufacturing operations shut down?
In some ways such questions are futile. God is God… and He doesn’t have to tell us why He allows hardship to cross our paths. In another way we do have some answers. Scripture tells us that for believers these things are for our sanctification. Scripture texts such as Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4 show us that God grows us spiritually through trial and pain.
But what about those who are not believers? The Russian novelist and historian, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, was once asked why his country was going through such tough times. Many were asking, “Why is this happening to us?” Solzhenitsyn replied, “This is happening to us because men have forgotten God.” God is more than able to bring a country to its knees – as the plagues of Egypt make abundantly clear.
I don’t think that it’s an overstatement to say that we are living in an age of unprecedented arrogance. So many in our nation don’t believe we need God. Autonomous man is quite capable of fixing his own problems. As a result there is more trust in the advances of science and in the accomplishments of technology than there is in the God who made the universe and still upholds it with His hand. But then an horrific bushfire destroys life and property and a drought robs a farmer of his livelihood so that he prefers suicide to facing bankruptcy. Or a country’s manufacturing industry goes down the gurgler leaving countless families affected. In those moments we again become aware that we don’t have all the answers. God is calling the Lucky Country to factor Him into the equation.
This week I’ve been reading some stuff written by the Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. In one of his messages he was speaking about our poverty of spirit despite our impressive technological achievements. One line stood out for me as just so applicable to us today in Australia:
Nothing in our glittering technology can raise man to new heights, because material growth has been made an end in itself, and, in the absence of moral purpose, man himself becomes smaller as the works of man become bigger. (Trumpet of Conscience)
King highlights a problem that is far worse than bushfires and floods, worse than our manufacturing industries failing as company after company goes offshore: the absence of moral purpose. Perhaps nothing showed that lack of moral purpose so clearly this past week as the ugly reports of media outlets waving us much as $3 million under the nose of a convicted drug smuggler, released from a Bali jail, for the rights to her story. There’s something sadly wrong with a nation that treats a Bogan criminal as a hero.
It’s only the message of Jesus Christ that can restore a sense of moral purpose to the Lucky Country.