Monday, July 02, 2007

After The Flood

Following the catastrophic flooding across much of central England last week, a number of Anglican bishops, in particular evangelicals, have spoken out to identify the flood as an act of divine judgement on our nation, not only for our failure to steward the environment [which would be harsh, given that there has been a rising ground-swell in environmental responsibility over recent years: why hit out at those who have repented/are repenting?] but also for our acceptance of homosexuals as equal members of society. [hat-tip to Maggi Dawn] While I am sure that there is much about our society that makes God sad – such as our failure to raise physically, emotionally and socially healthy children, for example – I am not convinced that God is responsible for the rise (in both frequency and severity) in flooding across the UK.

We need to go back to the Bible as myth. By myth, I mean a story that transcends its original context in significance, and gives meaning that helps us to make sense of the world in which we live. Myth does not necessarily mean ‘not historical.’ I believe that the biblical creation myth describes a series of historical events [as it happens, I believe it describes a re-creation of a pre-existent creation that has been significantly destroyed in the heavenly rebellion of satan, and God’s defeating him and throwing him down to earth, along with his rebel-angel followers].

It seems to me that the biblical myth presents us with, among other things, the following meaning as we look at the world around us:
God made the world and the mechanisms for life to flourish, and called every element of that inter-dependency ‘good’;
That ‘goodness’ has been compromised by the presence and activity of spiritual beings opposed to God;
Humanity is called to steward the earth, which includes working with God to liberate the rest of creation from the control of demonic powers; this is expressed perfectly in the human Jesus, through whom the creator becomes the created; however, at times we have cooperated, wittingly and unwittingly, with the demonic destruction of creation;
Powerful demonic beings are in particular identified with major cities (e.g. Babylon, Tyre, Ephesus, Rome) and with bodies of water (e.g. the Mediterranean; the Nile; the Red Sea; Lake Galilee). Although flooding is famously identified with God’s judgement in the story of Noah’s Ark, waters breaking over land is most usually identified as demonic destruction, to which God is opposed; while land is seen as a sign of God’s care for humanity, most notably in providing a Promised Land for the people he called-out to be a blessing to all peoples. So God defeats the sea demon Yam; confronts and defeats the god of the river Nile; parts the Red Sea, and the Jordan; so the sea of Galilee is whipped-up against Jesus who is on the way to deliver a multiply demonised man, and Jesus subdues this attack; so Peter, on whom the Church is founded, shares in the divine act of walking on the waters; so there is no sea in heaven;
Out of love for creation, God restrains significant demonic destruction (if not, we would be destroyed); but sometimes removes his restraining hand allowing demonic powers to do their destructive will within limits, in the hope that we might call out to God to be delivered;
We are caught up in a cosmic struggle in which we do not have the luxury of being neutral, and in which ‘natural disasters’ will only increase in frequency until the unknown day and hour when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead, whether that day is imminent or will be delayed for millennia…

Where, then, does this leave us?

There is clearly a physical element to the flooding, and this may be magnified by both human activity that is aggravating rapid climate change and human inactivity to create adequate channels for certain slow-moving rivers;
This event gives rise to the opportunity for us to repent, of believing we are somehow above the rest of creation, and of failing to care for the rest of creation as we should;
The destruction caused by the flooding brings satisfaction to satan, and sadness to God; God may have allowed it to happen, but didn’t send it;
This raises the question, “Why would a God who is supposed to be both good and all-powerful allow this to happen?” to which we can answer, “Out of hope that we might call on him to deliver us, for God works in all circumstances, whether good or ill, to bring good for those who call on him,” for the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, whereas Jesus comes to bring life in its fullness.

There is plenty of scope for a theological response to what has happened here this week, in ways that extend hope, not condemnation. And there is plenty of scope for the Church to get involved in practical ways in the local context, and in the future-strategy debate in the national context. There are plenty of ways in which we might extend the deliverance Jesus brings, both to those who have had their lives washed away and face (perhaps cannot face) re-building, and to the physical landscape.

I am sure that those bishops who have spoken out have done so after serious thought, and genuinely believe what they have said. And I don’t claim that my alternative reading – of both the Bible and events – is Right and that they are Wrong. But I think, for now at least, this is the ground I will stand on, and reach out to others from.

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  1. Thanks Andrew, a great response.

  2. excellent and well thought out response- if only all commentators could find such balance!!!