Old Sins Cast Long Shadows: (3) An Unhealed Wound

This is part three of a 4 part series from Peter Adam examining the wrongs perpetrated against the first Australians. (See part 1 and part 2


British settlement began with convicts being sent to Australia for petty thefts. It then moved to the grand theft of a continent by a government, and then sank to entrepreneurial theft by avaricious individuals. We were called to love our neighbour, and we stole instead.  And letting others steal is as serious as doing our own stealing. Governments that allow theft are in serious trouble with God. And our history shows the damage done by Government when it tackles the problem of petty crime but ignores large-scale theft of natural resources by wealthy and powerful people, even today.

British settlement began with convicts being sent to Australia for petty thefts. It then moved to the grand theft of a continent by a government. We were called to love our neighbour, and we stole instead.

We read in the Bible of Ahab, an ungodly king of Samaria, in 1 Kings 21. He wanted the vineyard of Naboth, which was Naboth’s ancestral inheritance, given to his family by God. Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, caused Naboth’s murder, so that Ahab could take his vineyard. This was a sin with long-term consequences for Naboth’s family, who lost their head and their income, and for Ahab and Jezebel. God sent the prophet Elijah with these two accusations: “Have you killed, and also taken possession?” [1 Kings 21:19] How would those British settlers have answered those questions?

Theft is Idolatry

Theft is a natural action for those who regard possessions and financial security as their God. Christ told us that we “cannot serve God and money” [Matthew 6:24], and that is evident in Australia. Those who serve money find it impossible to serve God. And you can have a good economy and a bad society: our economy is only a means to an end, and it must be just as well as effective.

Old sins cast long shadows. For theft led to bloodshed. Pitched battles by Government troops at Richmond in 1795, at Parramatta in 1797, at Bathurst in 1824 or Pinjarra in 184[1] were as appalling as local murders by thugs and thieves. It was, as Laurence Threkeld of the London Missionary Society wrote in 1837, “a war of extermination.”[2]

Warnings of Judgment

After the Myall Creek massacre in 1838, the Sydney Baptist minister John Saunders preached on the text from the prophet Isaiah,  “For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain” (Isaiah 26:21, KJV). He said:

It is not for us to state in what degree this principle shall be applied to any particular people, nor to predict the precise moment of its application, but we may be sure that the unchanging word of God has been fulfilled, and is still accomplished toward every one of the tribes of Adam. The measure of forbearance, the weight of visitation, and the time of indignation are in the hands of the Eternal, but the certainty of a righteous retribution towards all is clearly established.

We may be sure that the unchanging word of God is still accomplished toward every one of the tribes of Adam. The certainty of a righteous retribution towards all is clearly established. (John Saunders)

An additional point is also obvious, that if there be anything which falls for a swifter and a more severe punishment than another, it is the shedding of human blood. For this the nations receive a prompt and condign visitation. Oppression, cruelty and blood, gather the clouds of vengeance, and provoke the threatening thunder of the Omnipotent, and attract the bolt of wrath. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed,” was the decree of the Eternal when the life of the brutes was placed in human power, and the reason for this solemn distinction is “for in the image of God made he man.” And this is a distinction which God has maintained, does maintain, and will maintain till the end of time.

It is a fearful thing to shed human blood, it is an act which has the deepest malefaction of heaven upon it—a curse from the dread power above…Pilate might wash his hands but he could not make himself guiltless of innocent blood. [3]

Saunders continued,

We have not been fighting with a natural enemy, but have been eradicating the possessors of the soil, and why, forsooth? because they were troublesome, because some few had resented the injuries they had received, and then how were they destroyed? by wholesale, in cold blood; let the Hawkesbury and Emu Plains tell their history, let Bathurst give in her account, and the Hunter render her tale, not to mention the South, and we shall find that while rum, and licentiousness, and famine, and disease, have done their part to exterminate the blacks, the musket, and the bayonet and the sword, and the poisoned damper, have also had their influence and that Britain hath avenged the death of her sons, not by law, but by retaliation at the atrocious disproportion of a hundred to one. The spot of blood is upon us, the blood of the poor and the defenceless, the blood of the men we wronged before we slew, and too, too often, a hundred times too often, innocent blood.[4]

Unhealed Wounds

Old sins cast long shadows, and the shadows of those old sins today include the memories of land theft and slaughter, and the fracturing and loss of structures of society, and the weakening of family identity and family life. The sin of slow genocide of most of a people still shadows our national life. For all our pride in our ethnic diversity and richness, we have not yet repented of our version of what is politely described as ethnic cleansing. As the pioneer British Christian worker with indigenous people, John Gribble, said:

If I am to work as a missionary, it must be on the lines of justice and right to the Aborigines of this land, in opposition to the injustice and wrong-doing of unprincipled white men. This is my decision and by it I stand or fall.[5]

In her crime novels, Agatha Christie often points out that murder not only damages the person who is murdered, but also damages the murderer. That is true of all sins, including the sins of large scale theft and murder.

Murder not only damages the person who is murdered, but also damages the murderer. That is true of all sins, including the sins of large scale theft and murder. I believe that this theft of Australia, for which we have not yet repented, has severely damaged our whole nation.

I believe that this theft of Australia, for which we have not yet repented, has severely damaged our whole nation, and especially in our attitude to refugees. For one of the effects of theft is that those who steal are very possessive of what they have stolen. This might be because they feel guilty about their theft, realising that they have taken risks get what they have stolen. It might be because they have compromised their moral code to get what they want. They are reluctant to share the benefits of what they have stolen with others, and will complain very loudly if they are in danger of losing it.

Shackled Hearts

Why is it we in Australia are generally so reluctant to welcome refugees, and so reluctant to share our wealth and prosperity? It may come from the worship of money, of possessions, of financial security. It may come from a deep guilt about how we gained what we have. It may be that old sins cast long shadows, and that one such shadow lies upon us today. Because we stole the land, we are opposed to sharing it. [The consequence of idolatry is that we are captive to our idol, because, as Jesus told us, the one who sins becomes a slave to sin [John 8:34]. Because we have not repented of the sin of theft, we are still shackled by that sin. This is because we have not set free by the Son, and set free by the truth of the gospel [John 8:36,32].  We are still overshadowed by 1788.

If this is so, we will not be able to change our attitude to refugees until we repent of the theft and murder committed against the indigenous peoples of this land. If we do this, it will help us to diminish the long shadows caused by our old sins.


[1]John Harris, We wish we’d done more, Adelaide, Openbook, 1998, p. 432.

[2] As cited in Harris, 1998, p. 432. See further, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_of_Indigenous_Australians#1700s

[3] John Saunder’s sermon, “The Claims of the Aborigines’, can be read at http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/20835.htm The verses he quotes are Genesis 9:6 and Matthew 27:24.

[4] Saunders, “Claims of the Aborigines’.

[5] As quoted in John Harris, “John Gribble’, pp. 137,138, in Brian Dickey, ed, The Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography, Sydney, Evangelical History Association, 1994.

LOAD MORE
Loading