Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Bushfires

Nature and the soul

I went camping on the weekend with some other blokes who are part of a men’s group I am in. Part of our time included a couple of hours alone on Sunday morning, out in nature, just taking it in, not thinking too much, not analysing it, but just being part of it.

I begin by walking along a track along a river. As the track winds closer to the river and then further from it, I find myself wanting to be drawn to the fast and gently flowing water, so clean and clear. So I find a little clearing and sit down by the river, somewhat mesmerised by what I can only call the gentle rush of the streams of life-giving water flowing past me.

As I sit down, a cockatoo flies overhead, its screech piercing the silence. Sitting there amongst the wildness out in nature, with the ferns and trees standing in the stillness all around me, I feel like I am intruding on their territory. But then I realise I am not intruding, for I too am part of nature. I am out here too, just observing. I belong here too.

I am reminded of what Bill Plotkin says about nature, that it is without self-consciousness. As he puts it, it is just there, without any apparent wish to be otherwise, without even a glimmer of identity crisis. As I sit there I realise that the birds flying overhead, the ferns growing all around me, the bush, the scrub, would all be here anyway if humans had never existed. It doesn’t need us. It makes me respect it more. It doesn’t fight back; it is vulnerable, helpless, open to abuse, and impossible to control. I realise that this is a great definition of love: vulnerable, open to abuse, yet still giving unconditionally.

As I sit there, a small fern is right next to me, touching me. One of the light branches is actually resting on my arm, like it is reaching out to me, without fear and despite its helplessness, almost like it is reassuring me. This was the same fern that I was fleetingly tempted to rip out of the ground as I was about to sit there by the river so I could get a better view. Such is my selfishness when I am disconnected. I was glad I didn’t act out my fleeting murderous intent.

To some this may sound like some New Age claptrap. To the contrary, God’s love is revealed in nature. I am reminded that Jesus told his hearers to consider the lilies, that they don’t worry about how they look (Luke 12:27). It is good to see nature as Jesus sees it.

After a while of sitting by the river, I get up, leave it and walk further along the trail. As I walk through this wild land that the Black Saturday bush fires had swept through just two years before, I imagine the fires racing through here, taking all before them, leaving nothing in their wake. Total destruction. But then I wonder: purely in terms of nature, is it destruction or is it part of the renewal cycle of life?

As I walk on I see hoofprints in the dirt. They remind me of another wonderful side of nature: the contrasting gentleness and yet wildness of a horse. Then I look around me, seeing green fields in the distance, peaceful and beautiful. Out here, away from the distractions of everyday life, I am aware of my responses. I realise how fragile nature is and I see that looking after it is something to be done for nature’s sake alone and not just for its effect on humans. Nature has value in its own right. After all, God said it was good. Nature reflects the glory of God.

I walk further, up a steep hill, my heart pounding each time I stop. After a minute I walk off the track into the bush and notice the quieter sounds around me, not just the bird noises overhead, but the gentler sounds of what may be little creatures in the scrub. I walk back down the hill and notice a green shoot, fragile and tiny, growing on its own out of the dirt. I am struck not simply by what this might symbolize, but what it is, nature pushing through where it is not expected.

I walk on and I notice an ant on the ground which has stopped moving, maybe when I stepped near it. I bend down to observe it, gently prodding it to see if it is still alive. It moves slightly, then stops again, so I prod it again, and it moves slightly again, and starts walking, over the bumps and grooves in the dirt made by my boots. I notice that it doesn’t need to walk straight in the grooves, to be ordered like I think I have to be. It just walks wherever it sees is best for its purpose.

This was my morning with nature. It is something I think everyone of us should do with some regularity. We spend too much of our time inside these days, trapped in front of our screens, slaves to technology. And the more we are enslaved, the more we miss the goodness of the vast, wild awesomeness of the pure, natural world that God created simply because it is God’s nature to create. We do well to immerse ourselves in it.

Is God still at work in the West?

Is it really true that, when people travel to what we call the developing world, such as much of Africa, they see God’s Spirit move in powerful and miraculous ways which we don’t often see in the affluent West?

Photo by Craig ToocheckWe live in a time which is the most materialistic in the history of humanity. In our culture, intellect rules. If you’re smart you will go places; if your IQ is not up there you will most likely be consigned to life as a struggling labourer, constantly battling to make ends meet, and having to live out your days in the service of the born-to-rule elite, those clever people who were smart enough to be doctors and lawyers and are now living it up in a great big office. That’s the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) message we have drummed into us every day.


Where was God on Black Saturday?

I’ve just had this article published at Sight. It’s another look at the Victorian bushfires from the point of view of where God was that day. Rather than looking specifically at Danny Nalliah’s comments, and without wanting to sound like a glib response to what is, for many, unbearable suffering, it is simply my humble opinion on how I have seen God at work.

Bushfires are NOT the judgment of God

Many people will be aware of the comments by Pastor Danny Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries concerning the Victorian bushfires.  He had a dream back in November in which he saw Victoria on fire and that God told him that Victoria would be judged for the Government’s decision to de-criminalise abortion. Pastor Danny sees Black Saturday as that judgment being fulfilled.

As with many others, I see Danny’s comments as offensive in the extreme, arrogant, and based on very poor theology. His comments are far from biblical. Two well-thought-through responses have come from Barney Zwartz at The Age and Mark Conner of City Life Church in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

Danny Nalliah’s comments are simply wrong for the following reasons:

  1. They contradict the very nature of God. God is a God of grace and love. It could be said that at least Nalliah’s comments are based on the Old Testament. But even this falls down. If you take Sodom and Gomorrah, perhaps the most famous subject of judgment in the Old Testament, even there God was willing to save the town if even a handful of people were found to be following the right way. Do we really believe that God does not find anyone good in Victoria? That thought is a blight on the amazing good being done by so many in the name of Christ here.
  2. Following on from the above point, the idea of God judging a whole lot of innocent people for the sins of some is the same ideology that guides al-Qaeda. They believe in murdering as many innocent Westerners as possible because of mainly American foreign policy.
  3. Jesus said that the rain falls on the good and the bad alike. When 18 people were killed at the tower of Siloam, as told in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was asked who sinned that this happened. Jesus’ response was that no one sinned.
  4. The thinking of many leaders in the Pentecostal tradition is that of being ‘anointed and appointed’, and that any questioning of their authority is akin to being of the devil. Therefore they have an aura of a kind of papal infallibility about pronouncements they make. As a result of this attitude, you have people like Danny Nalliah making these outlandish statements based on a dream they had, rather than basing it on the character of God. This is where I much prefer the evangelical idea of the Bible being seen as an authority (though not necessarily the only one – as Fuzz Kitto says, we need to be careful that we worship God and not the Bible), as it shows clearly who Jesus is, and is, I believe, inspired by God.
  5. I think Barney Zwartz is spot on when he says that at times like these, the role of religion is consolation. It’s interesting how many people have talked about prayer. John Brumby, television reporters and others have all talked about offering their thoughts and prayers. In my mind, God weeps at a time like this.
  6. In the story of the feeding of the 5,000, there is no record of Jesus saying that they were hungry because of the judgment of God. On the contrary, Jesus looked on them with compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then he proceeded to feed them and there was plenty of food left over, a sign of God’s outlandish generosity.

I have no problem with the idea of God speaking through dreams, but I also recall something that Rowland Croucher has said about prophecy. In his dealings with thousands of counselling clients over many years, he says that an overwhelming amount of them have had their lives destroyed because someone told them they had had a prophecy about them and they trusted them and went along with it. Croucher also says that if someone claims to have a word from the Lord and they have not heard it in a period of extended solitude, then they are not in the biblical tradition.

What I know is that the fullest revelation of God we have is Jesus, the crucified God who wept over Jerusalem and showed grace and love to all.

I also see God at work in the aftermath of the fires, in the amazing outpouring of generosity of Australians in giving money, clothes and time to total strangers. I also see it in the picture of the firefighter bottle-feeding a heat-stressed koala. This is the image of God in humanity.

These thoughts above are from my knowledge of God in my life, in the lives of others, and from the Bible. The comments of Danny Nalliah have no place in the kingdom of God.

Victorian bushfires are a sign of things to come

We owe it to those who perished, as well as their families and other loved ones, to get the message out to our Governments that climate change is upon us now. We can no longer put up half-baked solutions. See the article below from David Spratt, author of Climate Code Red. And, as the link to Professor David Karoly’s article further below says, these fires will be more frequent in 10 or 20 years. This is climate change. Some might see this as taking advantage of a tragedy. I think it is a responsibility. This is not a politicial issue; this is a moral issue, indeed as Kevin Rudd pointed out, the great moral issue of our time. A moral issue demands a moral response. I believe that these fires expose how pathetically inept Kevin Rudd’s 5% target really is. Hopefully after these fires, this timid target will no longer be politically feasible. The article and links below are sobering reading.

Living in Victoria, the bushfire apocalypse of the last few days has brought a curious response from politicians, who are keen to be seen and heard about everything except the elephant in the room: climate change. Last Sunday when Victoria erupted into flames, it was the hottest day on record at 46.4C in Melbourne and 48.8C was recorded in Hopetoun, following almost immediately after 35 days without rain. This is beyond all lived experience in this part of the world.

Record temperatures and more extreme events are consistent with the projected impacts of global warming, and the horror of the last few days with up to 200 people likely to have lost their lives may be a grim warming of life in the Australian countryside with elevated temperatures, less rain and generally drier conditions, and more extreme events.

Twice in the last two weeks the Victorian premier has told us that two separate extreme weather events are “one-in-1,000-year or one-in-500-year” events. But his chief climate change advisor, Prof. David Karoly politely corrected him on the first occasion, noting that the 43C+ temperatures of 28-31 January would be “much more like the normal experience in 10 to 20 years”.  By today premier Brumby was recognizing that: “There is clear evidence now that the climate is becoming more extreme. Those people that doubted it… we have had temperatures of 48 degrees.”

We know from the research that what we now find extraordinary will become almost everyday in a heated world, and then it will be too late. 

Now is the time for extraordinary political action, as happened a week ago in Canberra when 500 people at the first Australian Climate Action Summit took a courageous stand and declared: “We face a climate emergency. Our vision is to work together at emergency speed to restore in a just way a safe climate in time for all people, all species and all generations.”

Just days later that climate emergency materialised in one form across regional Victoria.

The lived experience of this terrible event may have one positive outcome: to bring into wider debate the effects of global warming and why radical mitigation measures are so necessary now. It may also cast light on the limits of adaptation. 

The planet cannot be traded off. There are absolute limits that should not be crossed, and doing something, but not enough, will still lead to disaster. 

The following material may be of use in the next days and weeks.

David Spratt, 9 February 2009



“The heat is unusual, but it will become much more like the normal experience in 10 to 20 years” – Prof. David Karoly, University of Melbourne, AAP 30 January 2009


“But you know, unless you want to spend … huge amounts of money … you can never guarantee something against a one-in-1,000-year or one-in-500-year event. To do so would cost huge amounts of money for something that occurs just one day in 100 years.” – Victorian Premier, John Brumby, 2 February 2009

Fires the deadly inevitability of climate change

Freya Mathews, The Age, February 10, 2009

The disaster challenges the Government to accept evident truths.

Dr Greg Holland and Professor David Karoly join Lateline

ABC TV Lateline, 9 August 2009

Dr Greg Holland of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research and the Victorian Government’s chief climate change adviser Professor David Karoly join Lateline live from Melbourne.

Fires, floods pressure Australia government on climate

James Grubel, Reuters, 9 February 2009

Australia’s deadliest wildfires increased pressure on the national government to take firm action on climate change on Monday as scientists said global warming likely contributed to conditions that fueled the disaster.

It will only get worse as climate changes

Jonathan Pearlman, Canberra Times, 9 February 2009

Australia faces “a very dangerous decade or decades” as climate change increases the intensity of fires and lengthens the bushfire season, scientists and environmentalists warn.

Are we underprepared for the bushfire threat?

Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) and Australian Science Media Centre briefing, 29 January 2009


Climate change and its impact on the management of bushfire

Bushfire Weather in Southeast Australia: Recent Trends and Projected Climate Change Impacts

C. Lucas, K. Hennessy, G. Mills and J. Bathols,  Bushfire CRC and Australian Bureau of Meteorology 

September 2007

Victorian briefing

Fatal mix of high heat and drought,25197,25026939-5013404,00.html

Asa Wahlquist, The Australian, February 09, 2009

Weather experts have blamed record temperatures, a sustained drought and climate change for the bushfires that devastated Victoria and are expected to have claimed up to 100 lives over the weekend.

Is there a link between Adelaide’s heatwave and global warming?

Barry Brook, bravenewclimate, 3 February 2009

Compassion in the face of disaster

Koala drinking water

Isn’t this photo just beautiful? It seems to have gone around the world. I saw it in the London Times yesterday. Yet another example of how humanity has the capacity for the most amazing empathy, this time for those who are often the most vulnerable in disasters like the Victorian bushfires – our animal friends.

Of droughts and flooding rains

Dorothea Mackellar’s famous poem has been brought to mind again in our sunburnt land. While half of Queensland is under water, Victoria and NSW are still trying to deal with the worst day of fires in the nation’s history. This is now worse than the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983.

Call 1800 811 700 to donate to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal

Call 1800 811 700 to donate to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal

This post is for those who have lost loved ones and homes. Our prayers and thoughts are with you. At the time of posting, 84 people have died in Victoria. This is a disaster on a massive scale for us, and I have to say that I think the response of the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, has been admirable. He has been visible, he has been compassionate, and he has sought assistance when it has been needed. The true heroes though are the firefighters, many of whom are volunteers from the CFA. If you see one of them on the road somewhere, give them a donation and let them know what a fantastic job they do, often at risk to their own lives.

The ABC has also set up a page for people who would like to help. They say they have already been inundated with offers of assistance. This is the great thing about Australia. When disaster strikes, we rally around each other and help each other out. When you watch the news over the next few days, take a minute to think and pray for the victims and everyone involved.

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