Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Queensland floods - Uncontrollable nature, Uncontrollable God

            Before I start this blog post, I would like to extend my sympathies to everyone who has been affected by the Queensland floods, especially those who are missing family members. My prayers are with you.
            I was not sure whether I should write this post. Although it was a post I really wanted to write, I think it is too easy to turn tragedies into an opportunity to espouse political or religious views, without any real consideration for the people directly impacted. I know that for many people this is not a news story or a speech or a blog post, but a tragic reality in their lives. If this post comes across as insensitive at all, I am truly sorry.

            When watching the news stories, it was the personal tragedies that struck me most. I don’t often cry during the news, but I find myself crying a lot lately. I think we see so much death, devastation and destruction on the news that we become a little immune to it. Perhaps it shouldn’t be the case, but it is much easier to find empathy for people ‘like us’. As I watched the news, I could so easily imagine myself in the position of those whose homes had been lost or whose family members were missing.
            But another item that struck me was the information that the Wivenhoe Dam was meant to prevent a flood like that experienced in 1974, but that dam was not coping.
            I think we have become a bit complacent about nature, especially those living in urbanised areas in the western world, where we seem so removed from nature. For a couple of hundred years, man has sought to control nature. They wanted to bend it to their purposes, mould it to their will. It was not man at the mercy of nature, but nature at the mercy of man. And to a certain extent, they succeeded - even if our control is undoubtedly more limited than we realised.
            Undoubtedly humans have a huge impact on nature. And we can control nature in a way no other species can. But if we think we’re the one’s controlling this big huge system we call earth, we are much mistaken. Humans aren’t the ones in charge.
            God is the one in charge. But leaving the theological discussion for a moment, let’s stick with nature.
            Nature is more powerful, more forceful, more in control than we are. No matter what we do to try and bend nature to our will, nature will often do what we don’t expect - and don’t want. Natural disasters remind us that our influence over this world is very limited. And it must also remind us to respect and even fear nature. Nature is not something that bows down to human’s will. Nor is it something cute and cuddly that only wants to keep us safe. It is wonderful and awesome, fearsome and dangerous. It can bring us much joy and bring us much sorrow.
            Humans don’t like to be at the mercy of anything. We think that the decisions we make and the actions we take can direct our own lives. We feel control of our own destiny. Nature reminds us that this is not always the case. Not only is nature uncontrollable, but it has the ability to sometimes control us.
            This desire to be in control of our own destiny also affects how we sometimes view God. Like nature, we think we can control God, rather than realising it is God who controls us. Instead of seeing ourselves at the mercy of God, we try to bend God to our will and our purposes. Read many books on prayers and you will see what I mean. Many of them devote a lot of space on how to get our prayers answered. As I heard in a YouTube video recently, we have our own greedy desires and we presume they are God’s will for us. But maybe the purpose of prayer should not be to try and get God to do what we want, but to realise that He is ultimately the one in control.
            Of course, especially in the light of the Queensland floods, this raises all kinds of questions about why God would cause this or even allow it. That’s a big question and one I don’t have the space to do even the tiniest bit of justice to here. The short answer is, I don’t know. But then, I’m not the one in charge. And I know God is loving and I know he is just. But I also know he is fearsome and powerful. Maybe God is just letting the laws of nature taking their course. If He stepped in and prevented this natural disaster, he would have to step in and prevent every natural disaster. And maybe the whole laws of nature would then be changed. I certainly don’t think it is any kind of act of righteous anger or judgment. I believe God is just as sorrowed by this as we are.
            I also believe that God doesn’t only feel empathy for the people who are ‘like us’, but for all humans everywhere in this world. He cries with the people affected by the Queensland floods, just as he cried with the people affected by Hurricane Katrina or the Victorian bushfires or the Asian tsunami or wars and natural disasters everywhere. It is easy to focus on what happens in Australia, either because we are directly impacted, we know people who are or we can relate to those who are impacted. But there are people hurting every day in this world. And I believe God cares for them all.   

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