A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
11th May 2007
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Recently the Prime Minister suggested the community should pray for rain. He was announcing the threat of stopping all irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Drought, unlike bush fires and floods, comes slowly. This one has been with us for about seven years. Steadily it has been taking our reserves of water. The great food producing area of the Murray-Darling Basin is now under serious threat.
Unlike droughts in other nations, or centuries, Australian city dwellers do not feel the force of the drought. Our farmers produce more than four times the amount of food that we consume. So deprivation and starvation are not on our mental horizon.
But those whose livelihood is dependent on the land are facing ruin. Rural depression and suicide is a great concern. The long-term sustainability of our land use is under serious question. The city price for fruit, vegetables and meat may rise significantly. Our comfortable economy will be placed under increased strain.
But is prayer the answer? Should we not take responsibility ourselves and solve the problems with technology? The Bible maintains a delicate balance when it describes our place in the world. We are not foreign to the world but are part of the creation. Yet we are responsible to God for the world that he has created us to rule over and care for. As part of this creation we learn to adapt ourselves to the environment in which we find ourselves. Yet as we are over creation we adapt creation to our needs and desires. The material world is created for us to inhabit, and so suits and fits our needs. Yet we are living outside the paradise of Eden in a world dominated by death and hostility towards us. By our labour we are to subdue the world and fill it. Yet we are not able to fully control our environment and without God’s supernatural intervention we can do nothing.
Some of our technology is an adaptation of ourselves to our environment, but some is the adaptation of the environment to us. To adapt our environment to our own needs we can dam the rivers, irrigate the land, turn salt water into fresh water etc. To adapt ourselves to the environment we can learn to use our water resources more carefully—showering more quickly, throwing wastewater on our gardens, not hose hard surfaces etc.
But what about prayer? God gives us all the resources that we have—both those we adapt to our use or those we can adapt ourselves to use appropriately. Without Him we would have nothing. He provides and rules over the whole environment in which we live.
We may be able to predict weather and climate, but we are only describing what He has created. The ability of God to alter the environment is felt particularly in this area of life because weather is so changeable and climate is less stable than once thought and the complexity of weather patterns makes predictions and forecasting difficult. But we must be wary of seeing God’s hand only in the areas of human ignorance. The God who exists only in the gaps in human knowledge is not the creator God of the Bible.
Yet there are other reasons why we think of God in relation to drought and rain. The rain in its seasons is a testimony to God’s continued control of the world and favour towards humans. As Paul said to the superstitious people of Lystra: God “did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). Just as Jesus said that God “sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).
Yet drought and floods can also be a warning of God’s judgement. For God said through Amos the prophet: “I also withheld rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest...yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:7-8). And in the time of Elijah, when the prosperous and wicked king Ahab rules Israel—God sent a three year drought as judgement on the land.
Modern Australia is not Old Testament Israel. Israel had a special place in the plans, promises and prophecies of God. We cannot directly apply those prophecies to Australia. Yet we can see the hand of God in the drought and the rain—just as we know he rules over all of creation.
And as God sent rain in response to the prayers of Elijah there is no reason to doubt that He could do so again in response to our prayers. But praying for rain involves returning to Him. He is not a genie in a bottle awaiting our orders. He is the sovereign Lord requiring our hearts.