This week we have seen catastrophic conditions and a state of emergency as extreme weather fostered fires across NSW (and through Queensland). I have never lived through the terror of bush fire, close-up. I have read detailed accounts and listened to those who have lived through such apocalyptic events or been involved in fighting such powerful forces of a raging bushfire. I cannot even begin to imagine how it feels. The descriptions alone are horrific and overwhelming. The full force and fury of an out-of-control bush fire cannot be imagined. For many, too many, this week it has been their horrifying experience as the costs and implications are now being absorbed and worked through in many families and communities. I am always surprised and humbled by some of the responses that arise in the midst of such apocalyptic scenes. There are inevitably people who sit on the burnt out remains of their lives. With tears in their eyes and despair on their faces but also gratitude for those who have offered comfort and support, gratitude that they still have their lives and gratitude for those who tried so hard to save their property. Gratitude in the midst of immense loss!
There are also the countless stories people who respond in diverse and wondrous ways. The fire fighters who work tirelessly and who struggle against the elements and risk much to save the communities of other people. There are other volunteers and professionals who provide practical care, food, shelter and comfort to those who are evacuated or who have nowhere to go, having lost everything. It is into such apocalyptic events where life and death run closely side by side and danger threatens, that we are drawn into a deeper sense of reality, of what is real and what it means to be human – together. The more superficial concerns of so much daily life are set aside as we are confronted by such life and death situations. Despite the anguish and pain that surfaces, there is a sense of something deeper and more profound emerging. We are drawn together, to work, to struggle and hold each other through the experience. Communities of friends and strangers form and work side by side. Barriers that often divide us, fade into insignificance. We do not ask questions of faith or religion, politics, sexuality, status or anything else. We are human beings standing side by side, vulnerable and overwhelmed but drawing strength from one another.
In the midst of this apocalyptic week I read two post-apocalyptic stories. Isaiah (65:17-25) and Luke (21:5-19) both speak into situations of tragedy, struggle and chaos. Isaiah spoke into the period that followed the devastation of Jerusalem, destroyed by the armies of Babylon and many citizens taken into exile into Babylon. The exiles were released decades later when the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians. As they returned to Jerusalem, they were met with decades old devastation and destruction, overwhelmed by the immensity of the task of rebuilding city, Temple and life. Isaiah spoke into their helpless, powerless vulnerability. He spoke of hope and a belief that God’s way would bring life and restoration to people and communities. His vision is about healing of people, relationships and with the earth itself.
The story in Luke follows the devastation of Jerusalem once again, under the Romans this time. In 70 AD, the Jewish-Roman War reached its climactic point and the Roman forces finally destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. The city was chaos, with blood and death everywhere and the cries of tortuous pain and despair. Luke wrote around 85 AD but situated his story in the period of Jesus (~30 AD). He also portrays a new hope through resilience and standing firm, together. His promise is that God will be with, in and through us as we stand for justice and walk with others who struggle and suffer.
Such promises of God’s strength, peace, hope and transformation leave us wondering – where? How? Who? What? We look around and recognise that the world is not peaceful and too many people live impoverished lives – economic poverty or poverty of mind or spirit. The pandemic depression, anxiety and loneliness point to the despair and alienation that we feel in our lives that are so independent and individualistic. There is immense pressure on people to perform, to ‘be something’ and to compete with or fear others. Addictions abound as we seek ways to contain our pain and hopelessness, something to relieve feelings we cannot deny or provide some stimulation into the boredom that too many feel. So where is the hope and promise of God? When will God act in accordance with the promises? When will we see something – or has it passed us by?
God’s vision through both Isaiah and Luke is of a transformative community of people who grasp the vision, who respond to the challenge to be just and compassionate and build relationships together. The vision is of people looking deeply within themselves, to hear their own deep yearning and that of others, of working together to transform the world in which they live with hope, peace, love and justice. This is present in the catastrophes experienced this week. People respond and work together, transcending divisions and barriers, providing compassionate actions towards friend and stranger. In the midst of chaos and struggle, often the very best and deepest capacity of humanity comes to the fore. This is the world we seek and yearn for at the deepest levels of our humanity.
The dream of God is for a new world, transformed and healed. It is a world where people live together in peace; where people have the right to live in their own homes without fear of powerful forces driving them out and taking it over. It is a world where everyone has enough to eat, clean water to drink, clothing, shelter, relationships in caring community. It is a world where women can live in homes or walk the streets without the fear of rape or violence, where they can be valued for who they are not what they look like. It is a world where men can be vulnerable and express themselves creatively in the diverse ways without fear of rejection or peer pressure that pushes them into violent or anti-social acts. It is a world where people take responsibility for their actions, reaching out to others to offer a hand up. It is a world where the pandemic of depressive illness, anxiety, stress and the addictive mechanisms employed to cope with such stresses are no longer necessary. It is a world where everyone has enough work, and no-one has too much – where there is a healthy balance between all the dimensions of our lives. It is also a world where the earth is valued and creation enjoyed, nurtured and cared for. It is a world where power, profits and greed are not the dominant forces or motivating factors. Rather it is a world of sharing, equality and nurturing love. It is a world where competition occurs in truth and integrity and where we accept winning or losing in grace, enjoying the competition more than the result. It is a world where justice, love, grace and peace prevail and nations share and work together for the common good of the world’s citizens. This is a wonderful vision that depends on us being open to the life, wisdom and love of God!