What is happening in our state and what is God saying to the churches? First we have the choking of a 16 year old by her “friends” in Collie, then the brutal strangling rape and murder of an 8 year old girl in a suburban Perth shopping centre. We are in a moral and spiritual desert.
The national newspaper headlines, “Crime that ripped out a city’s heart” (The Weekend Australian July 1- 2, 2006 p.1), letters to the editor shout out for the return of the death penalty, people are stunned and blurt out, “This sort of thing doesn’t happen in Perth”. Normally mild mannered men threaten the perpetrator with death, parents hold their children that much tighter, no – one seems untouched. C.S. Lewis, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” What is God shouting?
A Latin proverb says, vox populi, vox Dei: “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”, this is not scriptural, for it was to satisfy the cries of the crowd that Pilate delivered Jesus to the cross (Mark 15:6 -15). To listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22) is not an easy task, for in the midst of a tumult he speaks with “the sound of a low whisper” (1 Ki 19:12). You will not hear the voice of the Spirit in the words of angry men, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” (Js 1:20), nor in the wailing of fear – filled women, ‘Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children’. (Luke 23:28). Our Father is neither angry nor fearful.
I am certain that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has for some time been shouting, “Cry, “Mercy!” and we have not been listening. We have not been listening to his voice in the enjoyable winter sunshine. Even though the sun signals to us we are in the grip of a dreadful drought, deep down we (farmers aside) are not too worried. After all, our new desalination plant will keep us going and we can always pump more water out of the underground mounds that God, who we never thank for this provision, has so richly provided. About this the Lord gave me, “she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal. Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness.” (Hos 2:8- 9).
Everywhere in scripture drought is sent by God because of the sins of a people (Deut 11:17; Isa 5:6; 1 Ki 8:35; Hag 1:11; Js 5:17). This is especially true in relation to idolatry, “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.” (Deut 11:16-17). Likewise it is a punishment for the neglect of justice for the poor, “Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them…. For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water.”(Isaiah 1:23, 30).
God is punishing us through moral, spiritual and physical drought because he loves us, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Heb 12:6). His displeasure is upon us because we have become engrossed with prosperity. How many Australians, how many Christians, live out the truth of Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” There is a mad scramble to invest, buy property, and accumulate more and more. I hear pastors complaining that some of their best people are too busy to put in time for church work. The nation and the church is not intentionally treating this hour of affluence as an opportunity, a God- given kairos moment, to pour vast amounts of resources into the third world and amongst other needy persons.
Let me highlight one particular issue that is on God’s heart, the situation in West Papua. 80% of the Papuans are practising Christians; up to 100,000 of the population have suffered from torture, abuse, death and displacement under Indonesian rule. Despite this, the federal government wants to change our immigration laws so that all refugees arriving by boat, whatever their circumstances will be prohibited from settling in Australia. This heartless and mercenary course of action evokes a frightening scripture, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13). This teaches that the merciless will experience God as one without mercy, whilst those who show mercy shall find him merciful at the day of judgement (compare Matt 25:24- 30, 31 -46). At the present time, spiritually understood, how is our nation experiencing God – as merciful or merciless? To ask is to answer.
The great danger is not that the secular powers will bow before the altar of mammon, but that the church too is more interested in prosperity than godliness. If we do not face up to the sort of situations like those above, then the text of Amos comes back to haunt us,
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21- 24)
Where today do we hear amongst the people of God a cry for divine mercy? We find it in the Prophets, “in wrath remember mercy” (Hab 3:2), in the Psalms (28:2; 30:8; 142:1), and in the Gospels (Matt 9:27;15:22). Most importantly, I believe Jesus’ cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34), is a cry for mercy. But which of our popular Christian songs or motivational preachers is calling on the church to cry out to the Lord for mercy?
It is a terribly humiliating thing to cry out to God for mercy, it destroys our pride and places us totally at the disposal of a greater power. This is something we super –affluent, fiercely independent, victory mad, wilful Australians hate to do. Yet nothing is surer, every single nation or person, from the wicked Ninevites (Jonah 3:6- 10) to those who implored Jesus for healing were ALWAYS the recipients of the divine mercy after they called on the Lord unashamedly (Luke 11:8). May God grant our city, state and nation a new wave of prayer, prayer that unashamedly calls out to “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3). When this happens, this city will receive a new heart and will become what it and our nation is called to be in the destiny of God, a place of refuge.