Why we are called the Sunburnt Country...

Towards A Theology of Drought

As our country blisters beneath the dry heat of the summer sun, I recently heard a church attendee say that the current drought upon the land was the result of "sins among the inhabitants of Australia". I was all too eager to agree with such sentiments and even spoke openly of it to others. Didn't God judge those who ignored His commands to repent and believe? God is fed up with the unbelief of Australians and is letting them know about it in spades.

A colleague of mine proposed an alternative view which shook all the righteous indignation I had stored up, right out of me. He said the Bible usually recorded judgements of drought by Almighty God as directed towards the people of God. The chosen people. The disobedient saints. The ones who should know better. The ones who were lax in the way they worshipped God and lax in the way they lived their lives.

Intrigued by the idea, I went to my computer and did a word search on my on-line Bible of the words "drought", "rain", and "rains". I was amazed to see that in the vast majority of cases that drought, brought as a judgement of the Lord, was most often directed at the Lord's own people. God brings drought for sins that stem from idolatry and oppression of the poor and defenceless, all the way down to just plain apathy and forgetfulness.

Haggai 1:9-11 (NIV)
"You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. {10} Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. {11} I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labour of your hands."

The prophet Jeremiah gives a tearful litany of the sins and shortcomings of God's people in his Chapter 14. The resulting effects of the judgement of God on His people were parching. There are many phrases here which may call attention to the state of Australian Churches: "(10) This is what the LORD says about this people: "They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet. So the LORD does not accept them; he will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins."

Our country's leaders, from pastors to politicians, are quick to point fingers at anything and anybody except themselves and those whose interests they protect. Verses 14-16 of Jeremiah 14 display all kinds of rhetoric looking to a rosy future. It must be true of us as well, for we live in "the lucky country", "the clever country", "the country of opportunity". A Sydney morning radio host recently stated that "the rains will surely come...it's just a matter of time." We may expect such confidence and arrogance of pagans, but not of those who proclaim Christ as Lord of Creation. We must not presume upon God's sovereignty at anytime or for anything than that which He has promised in Scripture:

Deuteronomy 11:13-17 (NIV)
So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today--to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul-- {14} then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. {15} I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. {16} Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. {17} Then the Lord's anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.

Are the Christian Churches of Australia responsible for the drought that the media says is the worst in living memory? Are the people of God in their local visible bodies, the culprits behind the devastating losses incurred by our farmers and ranchers? I am sure that when the Lord confronted the people of Israel and Judah of their part in the great disasters of yesteryear, they were as surprised at the accusations as indeed we may be today. The tendency to say "Who, us?" when God points the finger, is a natural reaction. We don't want to believe it. We are so sure that someone has made a theological error here and would someone from the theological hall please sort it out and get back to us. Surely, accusing us is the wrong conclusion.

But what if it isn't! What if it is true that the attending drought is a present from God to the body of Christ today? What if God is trying to get our attention refocussed on Him instead of the myriad of problems that usually occupy the space and time of the local church? What if God is trying to remind us of first-loves that we have lost? We must spend some time reflecting on this, for I believe we are responsible for the dry weather and we must come before the Lord in confession and repentance that lead to corrective action in Australia's churches.

The answers about how we do this are as simple as they are complex. Let me give you some starting suggestions and you can go on from there. Letters to this magazine's editor of your suggestions would be welcome I'm sure. We may begin by asking what are the things that God most cares about?

He cares about Prayer
Yes, I know everybody always starts with this obvious one. Maybe it is because so few of us do it that we feel guilty. Anyway, start praying by yourself, and in small groups or cells. Make sure that prayer is happening in the church. Pray first that the Lord would reveal your church's short comings. Secondly, pray for solutions to those shortcomings. Thirdly, pray for RAIN.

He cares about instruction of Specific Bible passages.
Instruction needs to occur in the things God really cares about. Teaching on how upset and angry He becomes when these important things are ignored by His people. Do a study on passages like Jeremiah 14:1-22, Revelation 2-3, and the books of Amos and Haggai. Sometimes we just ignore and pass over these passages with only some thought and much less action.

He cares about the disadvantaged.
Do you have any widows or divorced people in your congregation? How about kids without dads or pensioners struggling to make ends meet? Anybody without a job? In the hospital? On disability? On the dole? Do you care? Does your care go beyond the occasional prayer into direct action? We have way too much pew sitting here, I'm sure.

He cares about holy living.
We live in a world of ethical dilemmas and moral conundrums. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes. We make decisions without bothering to check them against Scripture. We forge the future without asking the Great Architect. The results are creations mixed with sinful compromises. Standards that have been slightly lowered so we will fit in better. Principles that have faded with constant barrage of the politically and socially correct wisdom of our age. Let us be unafraid of returning to the absolute standard of, "Thus says the Lord...". Let the chips fall where they may and trust the Lord to go before us in our businesses, schools, playgroups, clubs, and homes.

He cares about giving to Kingdom works.
A great failing of our churches is having short hands with long pockets. It is as if we never understood or appreciated the concept of grace. After all the Lord has done for us, in spite of our sinful natures, we respond to the needs of others inside and outside the church by tossing the extra change we have in our pockets into the offering bag on Sunday morning. And we think we have done a good thing. We even expect our ministers to live on it and then pay all the ministry expenses of the church and still have enough left over for outreach and evangelism. Our churches in Australia languish in poverty from poor giving habits. If you are not giving a minimum 10 percent of your wages to the Lord's Kingdom works, then it is time to re-evaluate the level of your arid commitment to Christ. Christ deserves to have all our resources given to Him for use in His Kingdom.

He cares about our finding the lost.
Oh we say we are concerned. We all believe in evangelism--at least in theory. But the naked truth is that few of us actually do try to share the facts of eternal life with someone. Most Christians couldn't explain the simple gospel to someone if their lives depended on it. It's somewhat embarrassing. If you don't know how, then talk to your pastor or other church leaders. There is plenty of training around. Being willing to train represents good progress. The Holy Spirit then uses you as His instrument and the most amazing things begin to happen. We are to make the most of every opportunity and pray as we are looking for opportunities. Big harvest out there.

If God's people were to pay attention to these and other items the Lord lays on our hearts, then we may be confident of the showers of blessings the Lord has for us.

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 (NIV)
"When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, {14} if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

© Rev. C. Scott Kroeger

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