by Rev Dr Peter Barnes, Moderator-General, Presbyterian Church of Australia
God is holy and demands obedience from His people.
“If you walk in My statutes … , then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit … But if you will not listen to Me …I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze.”
Leviticus 26:3-4, 14, 19
“I have called for a drought on the land and the hills …”
“For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Most of us love simple answers, although there are some who love to make everything sound complex. The three biblical passages cited above should help us to think clearly, and then to pray more clearly, about the present drought.
Droughts do not just happen. God’s sovereignty over His world – extending even to a sparrow’s falling to the ground (Matthew 10:29) – shows that He is certainly behind the withholding of the rain in modern-day Australia.
One might turn to Leviticus 26, and say the issue is obvious: we are disobedient, so God is chastening us. However, Jesus’ words are a warning that reading the providences can be a precarious business.
We cannot say that those who suffer most are those who have sinned most (note Job; Luke 13:1-5). Furthermore, Israel is both a nation and a church, whereas Australia is not exactly the fulfilment of Israel.
One needs to look first to the Church, because judgement begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). Before we decry the unfaithfulness of Australia, let us lament the unfaithfulness of the Church.
The citation from Haggai shows us that God was not bluffing in His setting out of covenant blessings and curses in Leviticus 26. In fact, Haggai engages in a word play: the Hebrew word for ‘ruin’ is hareb (Haggai 1:4, 9) which is close to the Hebrew word for ‘drought’ which is horeb (Haggai 1:11). Judah left God’s house desolate, so God left Judah desolate.
Now, perhaps, we can pray more clearly, more humbly, and more biblically. We do not understand all of God’s ways, but we know He is holy, and He demands obedience especially from those who profess to be His people.
In a way, the Church is the soul of the body politic. If the body politic is sick, it is quite likely that the soul is unhealthy.
Christians ought not to pray simply that the drought be over, and the rains come, but that the Church would be faithful to God’s gospel promises and His clear commands.
William Wilberforce said the conversion of one could mean the elevation of fifty. Indeed, ten righteous men could have saved Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18). It is professing Christians who must repent first and be renewed, and then the heavens may be opened.
Our most gracious and holy God, we own Your name but we have done so much through our selfishness and neglect of Your Word, and our failure to love You with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves, that our witness before the world is so often weak and unconvincing. Give us first humility of heart, to see ourselves as You see us, and drive us to You to seek forgiveness, and then to seek Your blessings on a people who love You and seek to walk in Your ways.