Sometimes someone says something that is so ignorant and illogical that you just have to speak up. Israel Folau’s latest ill-advised pontifications certainly fall under that category. Apparently, in a sermon he gave in his local church on the weekend he intimated that the current bushfires in Australia could be God’s punishment for Australia’s growing acceptance of homosexuality and abortion. How utterly ridiculous!
I have a problem with Folau’s comments on several levels.
Firstly, I disagreeon a theological level. Before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament for their sexual immorality, he assured Abraham that he would not do so if there were just five righteous people (people who had refrained from those immoral practices) in those two cities. Just five abstaining people would have stayed God’s hand. That was probably less than one percent of the population. In other words, even if 99% of those cities had been totally immoral, God would not have brought judgment upon the cities for the sake of the 1% who were relatively innocent. Does Folau propose that God has now changed his modus operandi? Apparently Folau is suggesting that God is bringing devasting bushfires to punish our entire nation because of the estimated 2.5% who are practising homosexuals and a much smaller percentage who are having abortions. Really? God wouldn’t bring judgment on two cities when 99% had turned from his ways; is he now going to do that when less than 5% have, in Folau’s opinion, done so?
Secondly, on a purely logical level, how is burning the homes and livestock of families and struggling farmers in rural areas a sensible or logical punishment if God is angry with our nation’s law-makers. How are rural fires in any way commensurate with God’s supposed displeasure with parliamentary legislators? It simply doesn’t make sense.
Thirdly, how incredibly presumptuous that anyone would dare to speak on behalf of God in matters of His sovereign oversight of our world. Not even highly credentialed theologians and philosophers dare to suggest that they have fully resolved the paradoxical complexities between the existence of human suffering and God’s sovereignty. I have studied the topic at great depth for many years and even written a book on it, but I certainly wouldn’t dare to make declarations, or even vague suggestions, regarding God’s sovereign hand in specific instances of suffering.
Which brings me to my fourth objection. Israel Folau is light-years away from being a theologian or philosopher. I’m not even sure he could spell the words. However, for some strange reason, his local church has decided that because he can run very fast with a piece of pumped up leather stuck under his arm, he should be given the opportunity to share his great spiritual wisdom. I’m a trained preacher and theologian, so I’d like to make a deal with Folau’s church: I promise I won’t try to play rugby for Australia, if you promise to keep theologically ignorant people out of the pulpit! That’s not too much to ask is it?
Fifthly, speculative and theologically unsound declarations by ignorant, untrained spokespersons such as Folau bring about great harm to the Christian cause. A very large majority of the Christian church would not subscribe to Folau’s statements on the weekend. Indeed, we are deeply disappointed in them. He does not speak for us. His comments represent the simplistic, naïve musings of someone who should never have been given a religious microphone.
Finally, how utterly insensitive of Folau to use the sufferings of people as a religious / political football. The ongoing devastation that these fires are causing to hundreds of Australian families ought to illicit a response of compassion from us, not one of judgmentalism. This unfolding national disaster should drive us to our knees in prayer, not cause us to stand on a soap box and condemn. It should cause us to reach out our hands in generosity, rather than point the finger of accusation.
For those who are inclined to agree with Folau’s statements about God’s judgment, you might like to read two incidents in the life of Jesus. In Luke 9, Jesus responds to people who suggested that a man’s blindness was God’s specific punishment for sin, and in Luke 13 he is dealing with a recent tragedy in Jerusalem when a tower in the outer wall of Jerusalem, the Tower of Siloam, collapsed, killing 18 people. In both incidents, the common view was that God was punishing people for their sins. However, Jesus clearly refuted this view on both occasions, effectively pointing out that their theology was way too simplistic. We would do well to avoid similar naïve over-simplifications today.