The Bible in Australia by Meredith Lake
Resolve for Ill and for Good
When you’re at a juncture, reaching a point of resolve soothes the worrying mind. Landing on a resolution brings us clarity, whether over little decisions like what to wear to a job interview, or big things like whether to take that job and change the course of your career. Resolve, courage of convictions, being decisive, knowing who you are and what you stand for – these are so often cast as virtues. But isn’t resolve a double-edged sword? For the Christian, to have such courage of conviction that your commitment to God’s word never wavers is commendable. But without interrogating our resolve and convictions in light of the Bible, aren’t we also in danger of acting upon a resolve that should never have been reached in the first place? This double-edged sword is what struck me as I read through part one of The Bible in Australia, “Colonial Foundations”. As Meredith Lake canvasses the Bible’s infancy in Australia, certain stories of resolve stood out to me. Some for revealing the use of the Bible as the weapon of an agenda, others for highlighting the dedication of everyday believers to the cause of the gospel, and of God’s word becoming accessible throughout Australia.
The first of these was in the story of Lancelot Threkeld, a missionary sent by the London Missionary Society, and his work with an indigenous elder, Biraban. Lake describes their efforts together – under Biraban’s teaching, Threkeld set about learning the language, beliefs, and practices of the Awabakal people, all in the hopes of putting God’s word in their hands, in their heart language. And yet despite his resolve to see the gospel transmitted to this people group, there is much that would have been a discouragement to Threkeld in the closing chapter of his life. Not only had his messenger to the Awabakal people, Biraban, not been converted, Lake describes that “his life’s work had produced no conversions”, and due to language extinction, “could barely be read by anyone”. So was Threkeld’s resolve misguided? We hold in principle beliefs that the immediate answer is “no”, for faithful labour is inherently good, regardless of how much fruit God chooses to show us from it. Yet after a whole lifetime, Threkeld saw nothing! Was it resolve wasted? In the subsequent pages, we see that instinctive “no” become confirmed. What follows should push us to acceptance of the sometimes-challenging reality that our labour for the Lord may not bear fruit for a long time, or even at all in our lifetime. But such resolve to continue faithfully ministering God’s word remains part of the path of discipleship.
Shortly after this, I was struck by the potential for ill of resolve about one’s own understanding and application of the Bible. Lake describes English philosopher John Locke’s seventeenth century argument from Genesis surrounding land ownership, and its relationship to the application of Terra Nullius. As Australia became more populated by European Colonists, many of these colonists grasped hold of Locke’s theory, justified in part through the Bible, as reason to dispossess the country’s original inhabitants. The colonists would cite Locke’s theory, deploying convictions drawn from the crude interpretation of the Bible. This seems to me one of those instances where one’s resolve needs to be interrogated, since as it stood, these convictions fit too conveniently with a separate agenda. How often does the word of God so neatly map with the agenda formed by the sinner? Yet thankfully, at the same time there were Christians whose biblical convictions prompted a call to humane treatment of Indigenous populations. Lake closes this section with the account of Lillie Matthews. This Bible-believing Christian woman recognised the call of scripture to treat all people in light of Christ having died for them just as much as for oneself.
A challenge to culturally embedded views of colonialism, this brand of evangelical humanitarianism took on the notion that all our resolve and any action that bleeds out from this, should clearly reflect the gospel more than any human agenda.
Meet Lauren Mahaffey
Lauren serves at Summer Hill Church as an Assistant Minister, with a focus on sharing Jesus with children and youth. Her spare time is usually all about catching up with friends and family, nerding out over podcasts, running, and cooking.