The book of Job is not an easy or feel-good read. The subject matter is fairly heavy – about loss, grieving, suffering and God’s justice. But it’s also about the value of community, about faith and about wisdom. It may actually be a good book for our current times as we struggle with some of these same issues in the midst of our extended and worsening Covid lockdown.
While me may at times ponder the themes of suffering and loss and the presence/absence of God in a general or abstract way, we experience suffering and loss in specific and personal ways – the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or a dream, the mental suffering caused by lockdowns or the physical suffering caused by sickness. Each person’s experience of suffering is unique. Just as it is for Job.
As Job suffers loss after loss, he maintains his faith in God, who is seen to bring blessing but who may also allow trouble to afflict us. As Job struggles on with a painful disease, three friends come to see him. They too are affected and distressed by Job’s suffering and sit with him, silently, for several days. We might learn from this initial approach taken by the three friends that our presence at such a time is probably more important than any words we may speak. Our presence, our empathy and perhaps gentle touch are appropriate responses – rather than our judgments or solutions to the person’s problems. May we carry this wisdom with us when we encounter people who are suffering.Posted: Friday, October 1, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Job 1:1-2:13
In a few weeks’ time, the nations of the world will gather in Glasgow in Scotland for the CoP26 UN sponsored climate change conference. (CoP is Conference of the Parties, when the 197 nations of the UN gather to discuss climate change. This year’s meeting is the 26th such meeting since 1995). This conference is considered the most significant since Paris in 2015 and will set the direction and framework for climate action for the next ten years or so. Climate scientists have indicated in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that this period is crucial if we have any chance of limiting global warming to under 2OC.
Australia is considered a laggard on climate change, along with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Brazil. This is because we have no commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and steadfastly boast that we are doing our fair share by a 26-28% reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 2005. Note that most of this reduction – if achieved – will come from changes in land clearing (i.e. cutting down less forest than planned). Our reduction in actual CO2 emissions is forecast to be less than 5% by 2030. By contrast, most other developed countries propose to reduce their actual carbon emissions by 40-70% by 2030.
Is this a wise course of action for Australia to take? We are already the driest continent on earth (other than Antarctica), already suffer from major bushfires and flood damage from cyclones, and already experience extended and crippling droughts – all of which are expected to worsen considerably as the global climate continues to warm. So we are committing ourselves – as well as the rest of the world – to a dangerously warm future. The excuses trotted out by our Federal government are that they will not commit Australia to an open-ended program that could cost billions and cost jobs in coal mining. A detailed roadmap is needed to allow for accurate forecasts of likely costs. Yet this same government has just signed us up to a completely open-ended program to build nuclear powered submarines with no costing (except that it will be well north of $100 billion) and no timeframe and only a vague promise on jobs.
The book of James contrasts two types of wisdom – earthly and godly. Earthly wisdom is characterised by selfish ambition, boasting and lies, while godly wisdom is characterised by gentleness, peace and mercy. Here peace refers to the Hebrew concept of shalom, where every person and every part of creation knows their place and enjoys the blessing of living a healthy and fruitful life. It seems that Australia is choosing the way of earthly wisdom – recklessly ignoring the warnings of climate scientists and foolishly locking in a destructive future for our planet. Pray for a late change of heart and the setting of a realistic but ambitious target to reduce our emissions.Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: James 3:13-18
The Season of Creation focus this week is on ecology (oikologia, literally study of the house). As a scientific discipline, ecology explores the relationships and connections between living organisms – including humans – and their physical environment. Humanity of course has significantly altered the environment of many creatures through agriculture, forestry, commercial scale fishing and creeping urbanisation. Many species are under threat as their habitat shrinks or is destroyed. Other species are struggling to adapt to climate change (e.g. the coral reefs of the world as the ocean warms).
English poet and Dean of St Pauls cathedral, John Donne, famously wrote that ‘no man is an island, entire of itself’. He was speaking of the deep connections between all of humanity, so that the suffering or death of even a single person affects the whole. Likewise there are deep and sometimes mysterious connections and inter-dependence between all living creatures. As part of the created order, and especially given our call to care for creation, humanity is integrally connected with the health and well-being of all creation.
If we are to turn around the widespread threats facing the planet, we need wisdom as well as the will to act. The book of Proverbs suggests that God is ultimately the source of true wisdom, but there is much to be gained from close observation of how various creatures live and co-operate. There is also much wisdom to be gained from listening to indigenous people who have cared for creation for millennia. They would tell us to listen to creation itself and to respect our plant and animal neighbours with whom we share the earth. Covid has given us the time and space to slow down and explore the environment close to where we live. What are we seeing? What are we hearing? What wisdom are we discerning?Posted: Friday, September 17, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Proverbs 1:20-33, Proverbs 30:24-28
The economy is what most politicians and business leaders seem to focus their attention on, even and especially during these Covid times. While daily press conferences may focus on case numbers and hospitalisation rates, the push to get people vaccinated and ‘the economy’ opened up again form the back story. It’s clear from the Prime Minister’s language that he wants the States to stop lockdowns as soon as possible … because he wants the economy to be buzzing along when he calls the Federal election early next year.
It may surprise you to know that the New Testament speaks several times about God’s economy (oikonomia) and about being good managers (oikonomos) or economists of God’s resources. These Greek terms refer to managing various aspects of a household, including its finances. But when these terms are linked to God’s provision and God’s values, it becomes clear that God’s economy operates quite differently to the commercial economy that we are used to.
God’s economy is built on grace and generosity, where all have enough and all are treated equally whether or not they ‘work’ equal hours (as in the parable of the vineyard workers). God’s economy encourages us to build up treasure in heaven – rather than in our bank accounts – by loving our neighbour. In this Season of Creation it is helpful to think about our neighbours broadly – and to include our plant neighbours, animal neighbours and bird neighbours (as indigenous Christian leaders encourage us to do). God’s economy is also heavily focused on the poor and encourages positive discrimination for the poor, confirming that the economy of God’s kingdom is remarkably counter cultural. There are not winners and losers in God’s economy, nor rich and poor, and caring for creation is not an afterthought. Instead, there is a just home for all of God’s creatures, both human and non-human.Posted: Friday, September 10, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: James 2:1-8, Matt 6:19-21, Matt 6:25-33
This is the time of year when Christians are invited to celebrate the season of creation. It seems appropriate to be doing this at the start of spring when flowers are blooming and all of creation seems somehow more alive. For the Wurundjeri people of Melbourne this was season is called Poorneet, the tadpole season, the season of plentiful food from lilies, orchids and yam daisies.
It also seems appropriate to be remembering the groanings of creation in the lead-up to the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow which starts at the end of October. While much media attention remains focused on the Covid pandemic, the threat of climate change poses a larger threat to the whole of creation as habitats warm and become inhospitable to many species. While fossil fuel companies direct our attention to the small changes we can make to our own individual lives (which collectively are helpful), we will not reach sustainable levels of emissions without major changes at a government level.
The creation stories recorded in the book of Genesis set the scene for the unfolding story of God, creation and humanity. In these stories, humanity is given a vocation to care for and tend creation as God’s representative. If we take our cue from God’s gracious providence, as described in Psalm 104, the call is not to dominate over or to destroy creation but rather to care for it in such a way that each part of creation can thrive. There is much we can learn from our indigenous brothers and sisters in this respect. But we must also recognise that use of fossil fuels (e.g. coal, oil, gas) must drastically reduce – and soon – to give creation a fighting chance. As some of the posters at the School Strike for Climate rallies point out, there is no Planet B.Posted: Thursday, September 2, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Genesis 2:4-15, Psalm 104
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