From the Archbishop

Seek light, give thanks, don't dwell in shadows


September 16 2019There seems to be a pattern in the affairs of nations that suggests it is the past, not the future – and sometimes not even the present – that dominates approaches to contemporary issues. Examples come readily to mind from world history. Australia’s military alliance with the United States is one that was forged in the Pacific theatre of war against Japan. This in turn displaced a reliance on the United Kingdom as Australia’s main strategic partner. Even a determination to destroy an old enemy means that new instabilities are formed. The second Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq on the premise of Iraqi military threat readily comes to mind. If we look back further in history, the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires at the end of the First World War has left long shadows that some see reflected in the instability, many years later, in the Balkans and the Middle East.

This is not surprising, especially if the events are so traumatic that they seize attention from other things. Jesus noted something similar in Luke 12 when he encountered the great crowds of people who pressed in on him and the disciples. “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” The repeated patterns of natural events are easily comprehended in our human wisdom but the exceptional, even the singular, work of God in Jesus was not comprehended with this clarity. Jesus goes on to say in the next verse: “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” Undoubtedly we are, in our human nature, dull learners. The lack of spiritual insight for which Jesus berates his contemporaries seems well and truly etched in the pages of human history and in the affairs of nations as well.

There are a number of places in the Old Testament where the duration of effects of the failure of one generation on those who come after is described as enduring for “three or four generations”.

This wisdom was undoubtedly received as applying to individual lives, as we can see in the question the disciples asked Jesus in John 9.2 about the man born blind: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”, and I think that we can see from Jesus’s answer that he did not see it in such a restricted way: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

There are some spiritual practices that arise out of this biblical perspective. For instance, fostering the growth of our personal thankfulness and gratitude for the many blessings we enjoy is a good place to start. Experienced as a corporate or cultural conviction, this practice would lead to a very different type of public discourse and even politics than we currently experience. Jesus’ question “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” also implies action. Grow your gratitude, keep Jesus in the centre as the focus of your thankfulness and join in to the big thing that God is doing through Christ in our own and every generation.

Read more from Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Melbourne, at