Somebody Should Unplug His Microphone!

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.

P.S.

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.

Comments

  1. Ray Jackson

    Hi Kevin. I always appreciate your blogs and your visiting Noosa. Please don’t forget us!
    I’m no theologian but in this case, doesn’t the OT reveal a pattern for the Jews over centuries – that whilst they walked with God they prospered, but within a short space of time, when turning their backs to God, they suffered. I know this was God showing His judgement of them in those times, whereas in the NT, the “wheat is to live with the tares” (plus sheep with goats) until the day of judgement. God must still be very angry with the world and the way some of His people (and church) are behaving, and although I haven’t heard exactly what Folau said, I must admit to having similar thoughts, and particularly when considering the “perilous times” ahead the Bible refers to.
    I would appreciate your further comments.
    Kind regards
    Ray Jackson

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    smartfaith

    Thanks for the comment Ray. One of the many differences between the terms of old covenant and the new covenant iterated in the New Testament is in regard to the means and immediacy of God’s punishment. In the old covenant God’s punishments were tangible and immediate (as were his rewards). In the new covenant Romans 2:5 says “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed”. In the same way, rewards in the old covenant were immediate and tangible, whereas in the new covenant we are storing up treasure for ourselves in heaven. I think it is also very important that we read those two incidents in the ministry of Jesus(Luke 9 and Luke 13) where the people of his day were convinced that when bad things happen it is unquestionably a sign of God’s judgment and punishment. Jesus’ response on both occasions was to repudiate that kind of simplistic thinking. Part of living in a fallen world means that sometimes bad things happen to relatively good people as a product of the chance interplay of natural forces in a world that is physically out of balance because of our sin. In this sense we all live perpetually under the ongoing ramifications of mankind’s rebellion against God. This is not to say that God never institutes individual acts of punishment – I believe he does – but we are left without any certainty as to whether a particular calamity is a specifically intentional act of God’s judgment or a simply another example of a physically broken world that is operating dysfunctionally and which God, in his sovereignty, has chosen not to avert for purposes that may remain hidden to us. In both previously mentioned cases in the ministry of Jesus, he indicates that the tragedies were the latter and not the former.

  3. John Crooks

    2 Chronicles 7:14 is often quoted in this context.

    “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 I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

    For those who espouse this position as relevant to western countries today I have have the following issues…

    Australia cannot claim to be God’s people. That was a privilege (responsibility) placed upon Israel.

    For those who (incorrectly in my view) believe the church has replaced Israel, this would mean the church, not the nation, must repent. However, it is usually quoted in the context of national revival.

    Back to Israel Falau, unfortunately today celebrities are given airtime in many areas by the media which far exceeds their competence

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