Aussie bushfire crisis
How should we respond to Australia’s current bushfire situation?
Australia’s current bushfire crisis (Summer 2019–2020) has set ablaze news headlines as it has the land. The current death toll stands at 26 with some still missing. Millions of hectares of land have been burned and the estimates of wildlife lost are staggering.
On a personal note, staff in the Aussie office are fine. We are in a metropolitan area and the worst we encountered was bad smoke haze (we were advised to stay indoors as much as possible for a good week or so) back in November, although this was more of a precaution for those with respiratory conditions such as asthma. However, every staff member here knows of someone who has been directly impacted by the fires.
Unfortunately, many of the fires in Australia were lit by firebugs (not an insect, but rather people with a penchant for setting fires; that is, arsonists). The current arrest toll sits at well over 100 for just 2019 for arson related offences.1 Some of these people have undertaken a deliberate fire-lighting act, while others were careless in their actions .2 Professor Ogloff from Swinburne University estimates about 50% of bushfires were lit by firebugs,1 but records show that this figure has been much higher in the past.2 The cause of every bushfire cannot be determined (there’s a large percentage treated as suspicious, but ultimately the cause is not yet known or will never be found).3
While not all intentions are harmful, the outcome has been not only loss of property and wildlife, but loss of human life. Couple that with a lack of controlled hazard-reduction burning during the cooler part of the previous years and a particularly hot, dry summer and you have a recipe for disaster. That’s exactly what we’ve got.4 These bushfires may be reported as unprecedented, but they are not unexpected.
Thus the terrible fires have had a tragic impact, and exposed ongoing mismanagement over decades. This illustrates that there is a worldview framing the thinking. In the modern secular view, based on the narrative of evolution over millions of years, humans are the late-comers to the scene. The environment worked perfectly well for hundreds of millions of years before humans arrived. In other words, get humans out of the equation and it will work much better. That is what has been done, and we see how well that has worked—not.
In the biblical view, humans were created to care for and rule over the earth, and everything in it. Genesis 1:28: God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
This is a fundamental worldview conflict. It is difficult to see the environmentalists and secularists backing away from their position. That is just the way they think, how they look at the world. Rather, they will look for a way forward that is consistent with their worldview, which may be more radical and lead to more problems.5
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10
Clearly, the idea that humans are a virus plaguing the earth is a false one. We have been put here by God and told to manage and care for His creation.
It was never meant to be this way
We’re all seeing the devastating footage of kangaroos fleeing infernos, the blackened remains of wildlife scattered by roadsides and huge blazes consuming homes. The media is there to film that grief-stricken moment when people return to find their homes are a pile of rubble and ash … It is heart-breaking.
While many animals have been lost, there are a surprising number that have survived. Wombats have wandered out through charred bush land after huddling in their burrows. Terrified koalas have stumbled out of burned areas6 seeking water from passers-by. Our wildlife has an incredible sense to know when fire and danger are approaching.7 These animals can often smell smoke or detect the sound of fire at distance. What amazing designs God has created within each of these creatures.
However, all this destruction winds up with people asking the same question. “Why?” Or even “Why has this happened to me? Why have I lost my home?” and “What did all those animals do to deserve this?”
Seeing the singed fur on kangaroos brings a pang of sadness. All this hurts. Something is wrong. And that’s exactly what we should recognise at this point. Something is wrong. Death and suffering are wrong. As Christians, we should be reminded that death is an intrusion into this world. It is a result of sin—a fallen world, in bondage to decay (Romans 8). Sin entered this world and corrupted God’s perfect creation. And every time we see the frightened face of an otherwise adorable koala, we should be reminded that it is not the way God originally created it.
Why do we care?
Undoubtedly, one of the most heart-warming things to come out of this season is the knowledge that people all over the globe care about Aussies and Australia. Significant sums of money have been donated to help our fire brigades, to provide urgent relief for the people who have been evacuated and/or lost their homes, and to assist wildlife.
Why do people feel the need to help? Why is there such an urge to give when we see images like those of the poor little koalas with burned feet? Our furry friends are doing it tough, so why not help them out? People’s homes have been burned to the ground; why not give them a hand to get back on their feet? It really seems to punch people right in the ‘feels’.
It truly has been amazing to see the outpouring of love. There is an innate sense that so much destruction isn’t right. As Christians, we can recognise that this sense of right and wrong is the God-given conscience at work. Where the blame for the fires is laid, though, will certainly differ depending on our worldview.
What should we do?
CMI supporters have been affected by these bushfires. As Christians, we are called to help those in need (Hebrews 6 and 13). We recognise that many of you support us along with other organisations (and we thank you for your generosity!)
We would encourage you though, to be reminded of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). If we are in a position to help, then let’s do that. Be the compassionate people that Christ commanded us to be and glorify God this way (Matthew 5). Whether that is giving of our time, efforts, finances or helping people to understand why bad things happen—it’s all part of our job. Here are some of our resources that might help you and others to understand about why we experience bad things:
- Why does a good God allow bad things?
- Why would a loving God allow death and suffering?
- Beyond the shadows: Making sense of personal tragedy.
Lastly, please pray. Pray for rain and for a turning back to Christ in this country.
References and notes
- Ross, D. and Reid, I., Bushfire: Firebugs fuelling crisis as arson arrest toll hits 183. theaustralian.com.au/nation/bushfires-firebugs-fuelling-crisis-asarson-arresttollhits183/news-story/52536dc9ca9bb87b7c76d36ed1acf53f. 8th January 2020. Return to text.
- Australian Institute of Criminology. Proportion of deliberate bushfires in Australia. aic.gov.au/publications/bfab/bfab051, March 2008. Return to text.
- Bryant, C., Understanding bushfire: trends in deliberate vegetation fires in Australia. https://aic.gov.au/publications/tbp/tbp027. January 2008. Return to text.
- Nights with John Stanley, 2GB Scientist David Packham on what’s really causing the bushfires, 2gb.com/podcast/scientist-david-packham-on-whats-really-causing-the-bushfires/?fbclid=IwAR2eaWp6mMIgVmfOa7pn2zvyrw_nPEsfzlTI57v5cKsfYKn57U9RpqLcYrU. 19 December 2019. Return to text.
- Walker, T., Facebook post. 7 January 2020. Return to text
- Hannam, P. and Geraghty, K., Rescued koala brings ‘ray of sunshine after nightmare’ on fire ground. smh.com.au/national/nsw/rescued-koala-brings-ray-of-sunshine-after-nightmare-on-fire-ground-20200105-p53p1i.html. 5 January 2020. Return to text.
- Nimmo, D., Animals have an astounding response to bushfire. These are the tricks they use to survive. theconversation.com/animal-response-to-a-bushfire-is-astounding-these-are-the-tricks-they-use-to-survive-129327. 8 January 2020. Return to text.