There is something that I have seen when it comes to the fires and the many prayers that have been made concerning them. While we should pray for those caught in catastrophic events there is a situation that concerns me.
When cyclone Tracey hit Darwin in 1975 most of the city was flattened. There was a random nature to the effects of the cyclone. You could walk down a street and all but one house was standing. It is the same in towns hit by hurricanes in North America. Lone houses standing while others are no longer there.
The same has happened in Gippsland, New South Wales and Queensland. The fires have destroyed houses in some places and left others still standing. It is the same with lives. Some have not returned from fighting these fires. Others have found themselves with no way out and no way to hide from the flames.
In Mallacoota the fires moved towards those ready with woollen blankets to march out into the lakes and the sea. Then the weather changes. The winds blow from the south and the fires move away. Still the fires burn and the sky becomes dark red. Ash and embers still fall as people pour buckets on cars to stop them catching alight. These people escaped. Days later, many have been escorted home by the Navy.
The Trouble with the Expectation of Prayer
We see the devastating pictures of the towns and schools all but ash. The fires are still burning. So many are still fighting fires. And during all of this we still pray. We are thankful that many are able to escape. But there are many that did not.
Can you openly attribute your survival to those prayers when others did not survive. When your house is untouched and your neighbours house is gone, along with members of their family, can you tell them how great God is?
I ask this question because it is one that I have had to deal with. Not with fires or cyclones but with my health. I was born with complications, one of these is Scoliosis. It means my spine twists compressing my torso, bringing my shoulders and my hips closer than they should. As a kid I was prayed for, A LOT. Because I lived in Australia and was able to go to a great hospital I got a surgical cure for scoliosis. My family and I consider this an answer to those prayers.
At the same time I was getting this operation a person who I would meet many years later was being put in a wheelchair because of scoliosis. She did not have political leaders who were able to create the medical resources that we have in Australia. Without the access that I had she is still in a wheelchair. I still feel shame when I meet her. Why am I the beneficiary of providence prayed for and she is not? Her parents and family prayed too. What is the difference?
We Wrestle Together In A Great Tradition
This is my third attempt at trying to finish this article. Because it is not an easy thought. Because it is a personal quandary and one that may be in the minds of those who were fortunate in the face of these fires. We could call it Survivors guilt. Though when we attach it to prayer it becomes something else. Because God is not a Genie. Not all petitions to God in prayer receive a positive result. How many have prayed for release, survival, healing and nothing eventuates. This is a dark thought.
Jesus often told those he healed to be quiet. These same people were so happy that they told everyone what had happened. When we get a windfall we want to tell others about our good fortune. Though what about those Jesus did not heal? What about those who are the subject of prayers for many years and nothing happens.
There are those who have escaped these fires. Some with only the clothes they are wearing. The fires have devastated towns, and farms. It is possible that the costs are yet to be fully realised for some time. We donate, pray and support those still fighting and fleeing the fires. We mourn those who are no longer alive. For those with miraculous tales of escape we are glad. When prayer is answered we can be glad.
There will be those who in their sadness and mourning will enter dark places. Those who survive may walk there as well. Many will find themselves in the place of Job’s wife “Curse God and die”. The hopelessness will attempt to swallow them whole. In this we have to wrestle with our idea of God. Is God good for me and not for another? Is God bad because of the fire that took so many homes and lives? Is prayer useless? It is a struggle and we need to understand that such a struggle is ok. It is a struggle we do not have to face alone.
I heard someone say that the Jewish Scriptures are the recorded history and thinking of the people of God wrestling with the idea of God, where God is an active partner in this same wrestling. It is what Israel means, one who wrestles with God. It is an active and living practice that is still going for the children of Abraham. A practice we Christians claim to be part of. Do not ignore that you may need to wrestle in the face of this conflagration. On these things we have to wrestle, yet, we do not have to wrestle alone.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.