by Dr. John Yates
God has a prophetic purpose in the midst of painful events; “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? “For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.”” (Amos 3:6-7).
Insight into such divine purposes however requires discerning the difference between two sorts of “Why”.
The first is the “Why” of cause; the second is the “Why” of purpose.
With no reason to suppose that the Lord personally dealt cricketer Phillip Hughes a death blow because he was more unrighteous than other cricketers, the first “Why” is not the bearer of revelation (Luke 13:1-5).
However to seek God’s future purposes through this tragedy is deeply illuminating. The mass outpouring of grief we have been witnessing across Australia for Hughes improbable death is on a scale beyond anything I can previously recall. Something foundational about our Aussie outlook on life is being shaken. This provides a window of opportunity for the followers of Jesus to reveal “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb 12:28). However to see what is really being laid bare through the death of Hughes we must first peel away the world of appearances.
Whilst scientifically Phillip Hughes died in an unfortunate work related accident his death has been laden with values generally reserved for slain war heroes. Post-mortem descriptions of Hughes call to mind the character of men of blameless valour who sacrificed their lives for our nation.
These are those whom age cannot weary nor the years condemn.
That no one believes such mortals actually exist is irrelevant, for we have entered the realm of myth and myth by nature exceeds reality. All nations have myths foundational to their self-identity, whilst Americans have their pious Pilgrim Fathers Australia’s myths are much more basic.
As a young (25) vital high performer on the cusp of reaching his full potential Hughes was an image of how we love to see ourselves as a nation. Despite the protests of our Indigenous people, our national anthem tells us that “we are young and free”.
What could be freer than the classless merit based sporting arenas of the world on which we, at least according to our self-belief, do so well? Sporting stars are idols serving the myth of a nation that has achieved greatness, not through the old world means of intellect, tradition, religion, art or military might, but by the sporting prowess of never giving up.
If you listen to the comments of opposing nations in the sphere of rugby, cricket and so on this is a myth received by the rest of the world. We love such accolades, they do us proud. Aussie culture long ago turned outward to physical achievement rather than inward to spiritual presence to find affirmation for life. Yet even deeper things must be said.
When my dad died after years of illness my mother came out of the cemetery chapel and cried out spontaneously, “It’s not fair!” In the land of the “Fair Go” for all it’s just not fair that a young sportsman die at the top of his game.
Traumatic like the death of Phillip Hughes events puncture the mythic bubble of a protected island at the bottom of the world where fairness can flourish for the good of all. The bubble however will soon be inflated once more. After a brief period of mourning our culture will go back into hiding under the blanket of hedonism. After all, Christmas cheer is just around the corner isn’t it!
Only Jesus can save us from being overwhelmed by the traumas of life for he is definitely no myth.
Christ was abandoned by the populous of his day because he failed to conform to the myth of an invincible Messiah who would effortlessly usher in a kingdom of privilege for a chosen people. Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem was not on a white horse of war leading a mighty army but on a humble donkey received by a crowd of children (Matthew 21:5ff.).
It is easy to see “Why” the disappointed crowds allowed such a pathetic Messiah to be crucified by the self-serving power brokers of the day. Yet it is the “Why” of the cross that actually reveals God’s forward looking purpose for humanity. In the crisis of his crucifixion Jesus cries out; ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34).
In asking “Why” the Lord is not inquiring of what he has done wrong to deserve this, he never expected fairness, but is seeking to discern the creative divine purpose when all is dark. In taking upon himself the unfairness, injustice, persecutions and unfulfilled potentials of our fallen humanity this young man embraces the trauma of nothingness (2Corinthians 5:21). From a human viewpoint this crucified ex miracle-worker is the greatest underachiever of all time (2Corinthians 5:16). Nothing could be more opposite to our national way of thinking. Yet the End result is resurrection and the hope of eternal life (Luke 24:21-27).
The Phillip Hughes trauma has exposed the fragility of a culture which lives like there is no hope outside this world. For centuries a clear vision of the End sustained Western civilisation. Michelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, the drama of Handel’s Messiah, gravestones reading “Awaiting the Resurrection” and the Christmas 1914 truce on the Western front all testify to a shared consciousness of a hope beyond this world.
With a sense of inconsolable grief around the death of our cricketing hero we are witnessing the cost of abandoning such a future hope. Our idolatries have found us out (Num 32:23). The Church is hardly blameless for this tragedy. A popular Christian chorus about Australia springs to mind; “This is our nation, this is our land. This is our future, this is our hope.”
How could we ever think that our nation is our hope or our future?
Such thinking inside the Church makes it plain that we have substituted a national myth for Jesus (Heb 11:13-16).
We must learn again of “Christ Jesus our hope” (1Timothy 1:1).
The demise of Phillip Hughes has brought to the surface what none of us want to publicly acknowledge, despite all our prevailing myths we are a society filled with “no-hopers”. Anxiety is at every corner. Children no longer play in our playgrounds unaccompanied by adults, kids are not allowed to walk or ride alone to school, and safety regulations demand that we must be told where the location of building’s exits at every public meeting.
Paul’s exhortations point us towards a radical response that must pit the people of God against the tide of popular Australian culture; “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14).
To boast in Christ crucified is to boast in the very opposite of youthful energy and physical attainment; it is to glory in becoming nothing for the sake of others (Philippians 2:5-7). Only by embracing this strangest of vocations can the power of our myths be broken and healing purpose be returned to national life.