CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Hope in Hopeless Times

Sep 17, 2020

Hope and trust are needed in these difficult days:

Millions of people the world over have been wondering how long things will keep going the way they have been. It is not just a global virus, but various government responses that have caused so many to cry out in despair, wondering if they will ever be freed from the shackles they are in.

Draconian lockdown measures have destroyed so many lives and livelihoods. Mental health problems are skyrocketing, suicides are on the increase, and millions of businesses are gone forever. And here in Victoria we have the most severe lockdowns and curfews found anywhere in the free world – and the longest lasting ones.

I know I am not alone when I daily call out to God seeking his intervention. I ask for grace to endure, but I also plead with God to deal with heartless and cruel rulers who are drunk on power and control, and are totally indifferent to all the harm and mayhem they are causing.

And when I pray such prayers, I know I am in good company, being aware of so many saints of God who have done the same. So many for so long have sensed the overwhelming hopelessness and helplessness of their situation, and they could only cry out to God for help.

We find much of this in the Old Testament, where God’s people seek deliverance from evil tyrants, enemies, and ungodly nations. I again noted this while in my morning reading – this time in the book of Habakkuk. In the opening verses of chapter one we see Habakkuk’s complaint:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted.

Such cries for justice and deliverance are common among God’s people. These pleas to God for some action against evil and evildoers are found often in Scripture. They ask why the wicked seem to prosper while the righteous seem to suffer so much. Here are a few more such passages:

Job 21:7 Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?

Psalm 10:1-6 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises. He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD. In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. His ways are always prosperous; he is haughty and your laws are far from him; he sneers at all his enemies. He says to himself, “Nothing will shake me; I’ll always be happy and never have trouble.”

Psalm 73:2-5 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.

Psalm 94:3 How long will the wicked, O LORD, how long will the wicked be jubilant?

Jeremiah 12:1-2 You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.

While they all call out to God for some sort of answer to their complaints, they also have faith in a God who will act and will administer justice. Habakkuk himself moves from his despair in the opening verses to his triumphant proclamation of hope and trust in chapter 3. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/09/18/habakkuk-trust-god-nations/

Hope – and action – for today

Many folks are losing hope with all the curfews and clampdowns. But some are standing up and letting their voices be heard. Let me mention just two brave individuals who are fed up with the tyrannical restrictions and draconian clampdowns found here. One is a single mum with three children. She is taking action to get her business back on track. As one news report says:

“A Mornington Peninsula cafe owner has mounted a legal challenge over Victoria’s draconian Stage Four lockdown, arguing it is putting her small business at risk. Michelle Loielo filed a suit in Victoria’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, saying she has lost 99 per cent of business under the tough restrictions.” www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8734239/Cafe-owner-SUES-Victoria-breaching-human-rights-lockdown.html

My second example involves someone who actually volunteered to lose his job. As the headline says, “Why I quit rather than be silenced: Vic Treasury insider”. The piece by Sanjeev Sabhlok is worth running with in full:

Last week I quit my job as an economist in the Victorian Department of Finance and Treasury so that I would be free to speak out against the state’s management of the COVID-19 infection.

I had made a number of criticisms of the state government on social media. The head of human relations at Treasury asked me to remove them. I considered deleting the few direct criticisms, but they wanted all indirect criticism removed too. I resigned on the same day, the only honourable course for a free citizen of Australia. I never dreamed I would see some of the tactics being used to defend the state’s health.

The pandemic policies being pursued in Australia – particularly in Victoria – are the most heavy-handed possible, a sledgehammer to kill a swarm of flies. These policies are having hugely adverse economic, social and health effects, with the poorer sections of the community that don’t have the ability to work from home suffering the most.

Australia is signalling to the world that it is closed for business and doesn’t care for human freedoms. This will dampen business investment but also impact future skilled migration, the education industry and tourism.

The whole thing hinges on the scare created by politicians and health professionals. For instance, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton claims this is the “greatest public health challenge since the Spanish flu”.

But this is no Spanish flu – we can verify that easily.

The Spanish flu killed at least 50 million people worldwide in 1918 when the global population was 1.8 billion. Proportionately, to be as lethal as Spanish flu, a virus would have to kill at least 210 million people today. Instead, only around 0.9 million have died so far (compare this also with the 60 million who ordinarily die each year).

What about a second wave? There has never been a second wave hundreds of times bigger than the first. We can be reasonably certain that while this virus may create further ripples, its ultimate magnitude will end up in the range of the 1957 Asian flu.

But even if the pandemic had been as big as the Spanish flu, lockdowns could never have been justified. There are strong scientific arguments against lockdowns too.

So what should the government have done? The data were clear from February itself that the elderly are many times more vulnerable to a serious outcome than the young. It was necessary, therefore, to work out a targeted age-based strategy and start aggressively protecting and isolating the elderly, even as the rest of the population was advised on relevant precautions. But that wasn’t done.

The need for good policy process does not disappear just because we face a public health crisis. In fact, it gets even more urgent.

The Victorian Guide to Regulation notes that “It is not possible for governments to provide a completely ‘risk free’ society, or to prevent every possible event that might cause harm”. Further: “The direct and indirect costs imposed by regulatory approaches may not be … immediately obvious. Risk regulation that is poorly targeted or costly will divert resources from other priorities.”

Governments back in February needed to commission a cost-benefit analysis of alternative policy options that took into account different scenarios (such as with and without a vaccine). Thereafter, the best option had to be picked given the uncertainty, but consistent also with the need to intrude minimally into human freedoms. This cost-benefit analysis and policies needed then to be updated as new information emerged (such as the fact that epidemiological models have badly exaggerated the risk).

Governments should have also realised at the outset that they are hostage to chronic groupthink and actively sought alternative advice. I attempted repeatedly to raise my voice within my public sector role, but my attempts were rebuffed. The bureaucracy has clamped down on frank and fearless, impartial advice, in a misplaced determination to support whatever the government decides, (instead of performing its taxpayer-funded duty of providing forthright analysis of alternatives).

While there is scientific argument against lockdowns, there are divergent views on matters such as the effectiveness of masks. I am a mask fanatic but there was never any reason to mandate these debatable requirements. Voluntary, performance-based rules would allow the private sector to innovate, leaving people with the power of agency, to determine their own fate – thereby minimising economic harm, and harm to mental health and general well-being.

So what happens now? Billions of dollars in income and wealth have been wiped out in the name of a virus that is no worse than the Asian flu and which can (even now) be managed by isolating the elderly and taking a range of voluntary, innovative measures. All the border closures, all the lockdowns, all the curfews in Melbourne will not eradicate the virus from planet Earth.

The problem for politicians now is to reverse course without losing their job. I don’t know how they plan to do it but if they don’t do it sooner rather than later the damage to Australia’s future would have become so great it would undo the good work of decades of reform. www.afr.com/policy/economy/victoria-has-locked-itself-into-a-lockdown-blunder-20200916-p55w1z

Here are two individuals who do not want to remain in despair and hopelessness. They have decided to do something about it. Whether either one is a Christian I do not know. But for those who are, we have at least two things we can be involved in. One, we can do things, just like this pair has.

But we can also pray and ask God to move on our behalf. He is aware of what we are going through, and he is not aloof to all the pain and suffering we are experiencing right now. So keep seeking God in all this. And if need be, we can repeat what has been said by the prophets of old: “O Lord, how long?”

[1834 words]

13 Responses to Hope in Hopeless Times

  • Psalm 37 seems to have been written for such a time as this.

  • Two courageous people, Michelle Loielo and Sanjeev Sabhlok, are the real leaders in Victoria. It is the likes of them, principled and resolute, who will ultimately overturn the damage that has been inflicted upon Victorians. It would be nice if other senior public servants would follow the lead of Mr Sabhlok, the name Luke Cornelius comes immediately to mind. It might be a long time waiting though, as he is a little busy enforcing the Andrews edicts at present.

  • hi
    I thought if people are concerned about the safety, ethics and possibly mandatory nature of a future covid 19 vaccine they might like to sign this petition.
    https://www.aph.gov.au/petition_sign?id=EN1837

    Apparently some vaccines use aborted baby products, some vaccines such as the Astro Zeneca trial vaccine have caused someone to become ill, so its important that the government be open about how any proposed vaccine has been tested to ensure its safe

  • Bill, all of us in Australia are hopelessly wrapped up in secular materialism – the worship of Baal, even if we refuse to admit it. Maybe God is using this crisis to detach us all from our ‘bread and circuses’ mentality and bring our nation back to believe in him. That will take suffering. The scriptures portray many instances of this too. Maybe we should be rejoicing in this opportunity to turn back to God, something you have said so many times.

  • “The pandemic policies being pursued in Australia – particularly in Victoria – are the most heavy-handed possible, a sledgehammer to kill a swarm of flies.” Sanjeev Sabhlok
    The same scale as “a cannonball to kill a mosquito” , my description of the use of tanks to put down the students in Tien An Mien Square of June 4, 1989.

  • Hi Bill, I have to agreed with David, the Lord gave me Jeremiah 3 6:14 this morning. I forgot that our Lord is both a God of Wrath as well as a God of Mercy and it pains me to say this but I believe our Lord is allowing this to happen. Our Lord demands repentance before he can intervene on Victoria’s behalf, and I think that is where the churches need to come in and the Watchmen need to sound out the warning. One half of Victoria is asleep to all that is going on around them, while the other half who do know are terrified. I feel so gutted right now even saying this but we must trust in the Lord. You are on the ground and in the thick of it Bill, you must be there for a reason, so hear what the Lord wants to say to you remembering that his ways are not our ways. Your deeds have not gone unnoticed and the Lord is with you.

  • Only a BIG kick in the pants is going to wake up the church Lord! We need thy divine judgement and we need it now. Only thine righteous judgement can bring thy people to you. You must drive the West to it’s knees so they might see the need to repent and seek you out. Make us reliant on you.

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