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The Broken Heart of Australia


"We are poor lost consumers.
Going around the shopping centers of this world.
Searching for our souls.
We thought we found them in Coles.
But we didn't."

Australia is a land of poor lost consumers. We feel that God has abandoned Australia to fend for itself on the edge of the cosmos. The convict experiences of rejection and worthlessness run deep within our national psyche. We feel that other nations have validity but that somehow we are a joke, a nation looked down on and mocked. Mocked by the English for our lack of class, by the Europeans for our lack of culture and by the Americans for our lack of money. "Meaning in life" is evasive and elusive. It seems beyond our reach, denied us by God when he put us here on this island. Locked out from God we are told to invent our own philosophy and to live by our own inventiveness. So we consume - beer and pills and Holden cars. We have the highest use of analgesics in the world and the highest youth suicide rate. Emotional pain is high in this land of the rejected. Thousands of years ago God spoke to a land of broken and rejected people. A people exiled for their sin. A people despised and looked down on - and some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture were written to them. Isaiah chapters 40-66 was written for rejected Israel and I think it speaks straight to Australia. ln this essay I want to explore this broken-heart of Australia in the light of Isaiah 40-66.

Hope

Hope.... we hope for the "big break", the day of salvation when things will change. When the rough places shall become smooth and the mountains of despair will be nothing and the valleys of defeat no more. And all the bills shall be paid. Ask the average Australian what the best thing that could happen to them would be - and a lot will answer "winning a million dollars". The winning of Gold Lotto or Powerball is the "day of salvation" - the day when we can give up work, pay the bills and go on the world trip. When we are no longer oppressed and can have what we want out of life. Everyone will praise us, no-one will despise us. We will party on forever. Here is part of a poem that I wrote about our national obsession with gambling..

False hope! False hope! Australia has become the land of false hope.
Land of poker machines, scratch-its and the TAB.
We are fools! We say to the bookie who cons us:
"You are my friend, in you I place my hope".
We hold in our hand the lottery ticket and say
:"You are my future and in you do I trust!"
But these are streams without water, dry gullies, clouds without rain.

Paul says covetousness like this is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). An idol is a false source of faith and hope . An idol promises ‘deliverance" and seems to offer that "magic breakthrough" - the day of salvation. But in the end all idols are worthless, empty and disappointing. They do not do the job. Idols are created by us -and have only our own power to drive them. Gold Lotto is just a human construction that profits its operators. It is not a source of deliverance. Isaiah attacks this with a sarcasm befitting of an honorary Australian when he "knocks" the idols that Israel once trusted in:

(Isaiah 44:13-20 NKJV) The craftsman stretches out his rule, He marks one out with chalk; He fashions it with a plane, He marks it out with the compass, And makes it like the figure of a man, According to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house. {14} He cuts down cedars for himself, And takes the cypress and the oak; He secures it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it. {15} Then it shall be for a man to burn, For he will take some of it and warm himself; Yes, he kindles it and bakes bread; Indeed he makes a god and worships it; He makes it a carved image, and falls down to it. {16} He burns half of it in the fire; With this half he eats meat; He roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He even warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire." {17} And the rest of it he makes into a god, His carved image. He falls down before it and worships it, Prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!" {18} They do not know nor understand; For He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, And their hearts, so that they cannot understand. {19} And no one considers in his heart, Nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say, "I have burned half of it in the fire, Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals; I have roasted meat and eaten it; And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?" {20} He feeds on ashes; A deceived heart has turned him aside; And he cannot deliver his soul, Nor say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?"

The Australian heart has been deceived by the promise of materialism and we have founded our identity on what we own. This is sad and it is ultimately hope-less. We cannot take our boats, homes and cars with us when we die and they cannot save us. A car cannot save you from divorce and a boat is no guarantee against loneliness. We need a God that works. A God that can really change things for the better and that can protect us in the midst of life. The God who created the heavens and the earth is an obvious candidate for the job.

(Isaiah 40:12-15 NKJV) Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, Measured heaven with a span And calculated the dust of the earth in a measure? Weighed the mountains in scales And the hills in a balance? {13} Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, Or as His counselor has taught Him? {14} With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him, And taught Him in the path of justice? Who taught Him knowledge, And showed Him the way of understanding? {15} Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, And are counted as the small dust on the scales; Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing...

This God, the God who created the heavens and the earth, the God of unsearchable wisdom, is the God who really CAN bring in a "day of salvation" for Australia. He can supply the strength we need to function. He can supply a blessedness that vastly exceeds that obtainable through materialism. (Isaiah 40:28-31 NKJV) " Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. {29} He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. {30} Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, {31} But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint."

Prosperity

Our hearts have not grasped that there is a God "outside the system" who can supply unending blessing. Scarcity is etched into the fibres of the Australian soul and what my neighbor has - is perceived as having been denied to me. We are consumed with envy. We envy the person with the nice house, the new car, the gorgeous girl. We "cut down tall poppies" and ferociously tax the rich. However our God is a Creator God, a God who made the Universe from nothing. It is therefore logical that He can make blessings amidst scarcity and abundance amongst poverty. What my neighbor has is therefore of no concern to me - for my God is able to supply as much or more to those He loves. When you have an infinite God there are no limits, no need for comparison, no "unfair share". Though our portion may seem dry and desolate with the Creator God we have cause for hope.

(Isaiah 41:17-20 NKJV) "The poor and needy seek water, but there is none, Their tongues fail for thirst. I, the LORD, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. {18} I will open rivers in desolate heights, And fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, And the dry land springs of water. {19} I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree, The myrtle and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the cypress tree and the pine And the box tree together, {20} That they may see and know, And consider and understand together, That the hand of the LORD has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.

If the Creator of heaven and earth is such a God of perpetual abundance why do we not see it? Why does our "day of salvation" seem so far off? Why does waiting on God for prosperity seem so completely unrealistic? In our hearts we feel "For some reason God has rejected us and cast us off and the blessings are for others and not for us". (Isaiah 59:1-2 NKJV) Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. {2} But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.

God can bless Australia. But God will not bless an Australia that is riddled with sin. Prosperity will be denied until we repent. Yes God does send His rain on the just and the unjust and God is not cruel. However our national hopes and desires will remain unfulfilled until, as one nation, we repent with one heart. (Isaiah 55:1-3 NKJV) "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. {2} Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. {3} Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you; The sure mercies of David.

Our Worth

God can see the potential of Australia. God knows that we feel a cast-off country. And God can do great things with the rejects of this world. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NKJV) But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; {28} and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, {29} that no flesh should glory in His presence.

At times we feel as though "we are not". We are very conscious of being a small isolated nation with a small vulnerable economy. Tacked onto Asia, colonized by England, culturally overwhelmed by America our worth is not immediately obvious. We are terrified that we may actually be insignificant. We claw and clamor for a source of worth and identity in the world especially through sporting contests. There is a deep, deep hunger for validation. This hunger cannot be met but any of the worthless idols we serve but can only be satisfied by a covenant-making God.

(Isaiah 62:3-5 NKJV) You shall also be a crown of glory In the hand of the LORD, And a royal diadem In the hand of your God. {4} You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; For the LORD delights in you, And your land shall be married. {5} For as a young man marries a virgin, So shall your sons marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.

The Smug Celebration of Defeat

After a while Israel in exile got a subtle form of superiority complex. As a way of saving face they substituted feelings of spiritual and moral superiority for actual victory, they even began to glory in defeat, persecution and oppression. After all, these things "proved" that they were God's chosen. In the end they became content with barrenness, defeat and discrimination. In Australia we celebrate defeats such as Gallipoli. We feel "morally superior" to the rich, the famous and the successful. We are content with our dry barren country and small churches. We smugly celebrate defeat. Isaiah called Israel to a vision of greatness and to expect blessing from God. He asked Israel to stop accepting barrenness and defeat and start preparing for success.

(Isaiah 54:1-5 NKJV) "Sing, O barren, You who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, You who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate Than the children of the married woman," says the LORD. {2} "Enlarge the place of your tent, And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; Do not spare; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your stakes. {3} For you shall expand to the right and to the left, And your descendants will inherit the nations, And make the desolate cities inhabited. {4} "Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; For you will forget the shame of your youth, And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore. {5} For your Maker is your husband, The LORD of hosts is His name; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth.

The Light Breaks Forth

(Isaiah 60:1-2 NKJV) Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. {2} For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the LORD will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you.

Light can break forth for Australia. I am convinced that Jesus Christ is the only source of genuine hope for Australia and that the Church is the only truly transformational agent in Australian society. The changes made by education, science and governments are ephemeral. They are changes founded on the wisdom and energy of fragile human beings. They are not the "day of salvation" we are looking for. Mostly they are just "re-arranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic".

(Isaiah 40:6-8 NKJV) {6} The voice said, "Cry out!" And he said, "What shall I cry?" "All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. {7} The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. {8} The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever." Human effort is just so much withering grass and fading flowers. It is empty. Any transformation of Australia will have to come from the powerful and permanent word of God. All other sources of faith and hope are "Vanity, wind, and emptiness, less than nothing" ( to borrow a few metaphors from Isaiah).

Light for Australia will break forth from God's word through the church headed by Jesus Christ. We, the church, have a glorious part to play in bringing in the "day of salvation" for a broken-hearted nation. Like Isaiah we need to turn our nation from false hopes, idols and bitter disappointment back to a covenant making God. The nation of Australia may have begun in the guilt and rejection of the convict era but in the "era of the Holy Spirit" it can be forgiven of God in Christ and accepted in the beloved. The barren nation can become a forest and dry hearts full of joy. As the people of God we have a message and like the three voices in Isaiah 40 we need to announce the coming King, the imperishable word, and good news of salvation.

© Copyright GlobalChristians.Org 1997

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.