Scott Morrison counts his blessings in a theological memoir

Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison is unafraid to add to his daggy suburban dad image. He begins his recently released memoir Plans for Your Good: A Prime Minister’s Testimony of God’s Faithfulness with the story of his family being blessed by their dog, Buddy. Buddy came into the Morrison family just as the COVID pandemic hit, and Scott Morrison brought on an “overwhelming and often exhausting” challenge in his prime ministership. 

“You may be thinking as you read this, Wasn’t this guy the prime minister of a country? Why is he telling me about his dog?” Morrison writes. “It seems like such a small thing. Surely, there were bigger things going on that he should be talking about. You’re right. There were bigger things, and we’ll get to those, but there is nothing bigger than truly understanding the importance of God’s presence and promises in our lives – and God cares about the small details, such as bringing Buddy into our lives at just the right time, as much as he does about the big things, like sustaining Australia through a global pandemic. In Jeremiah 29:11, God says, “For I know the plans I have for you. … They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (NLT).”

For Morrison, God is close and personal. However, Jeremiah 29:11 is a Bible verse often applied when people want to claim that God is blessing them abundantly. Jeremiah had the “melancholy duty” (to borrow from Robert Menzies’ announcement of the outbreak of WWII) to proclaim God’s judgment on Judah for disobedience and disbelief.

After Jerusalem is captured by the Babylonians, Jeremiah writes Chapter 29 as a letter to exiles taken to Babylon. Only after seventy years of exile will God’s plans for their good come to pass. Verse 11 is about blessings that are seven decades away.

So a question for Scott Morrison – and for me as I write this with a cat at my feet – is to consider good things like pets in a bigger picture.

But at the moment of defeat, Morrison turns to another prophet. He recounts the story of turning up at church the morning after: “God calls us if you are a prime minister, pastor, running a business, teaching in schools, working in the police force. It doesn’t matter. We are called to trust and obey. That is the life of faithfulness. We live our faith each and every day.

“I then turned to share a passage in Habakkuk 3:17-18.

“Even if the fig tree does not blossom, And there is no fruit on the vines, If the yield of the olive fails, And the fields produce no food,

“Even if the flock disappears from the fold, And there are no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will triumph in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”

Morrison reveals at that moment that God is not simply a vending machine of blessings for him. He may be applying Jeremiah 29:11 without the context, but he makes it clear he has read the Scriptures well enough to know God’s plans inclde challeging times and pain.

He describes how he prayed on long walks with Buddy after his defeat, feeling the effects of the ridicule that came his way. He recalls, “I sensed in my spirit” God speaking to him, reminding him that Jesus faced much worse.

I am pleased as a fellow Christian that Scott Morrison received comfort in his defeat. That’s not a comment on his policies as a PM but on God’s ability to reach into our spirits when we are brought low, whether self-inflicted or unjustified.

Through this book, Morrison links Bible stories to his own experiences. He retells the story of Moses being told to hold out his staff and lead the children of Israel across the Red Sea – and turns to his decision to put his name forward in the Liberal party room to become PM.

“I had been praying about the situation all week. I had been seeking the counsel and fellowship of Christian friends and mentors. I was talking to Jen. I was reading God’s Word. I weighed the practical possibilities and had a pretty good sense of the numbers we could count on. I sought the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, and He provided it (Philippians 4:7). At each stage, I sought to be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. All of this was necessary and helpful, but at the end of the day, I still had to make the final decision of faith through obedience. I had to decide whether to step up or step off. After careful consideration, I decided that the path of obedience was to step up. So I raised my staff and walked toward the sea.”

It is a big claim. In saying it “was the path of obedience” he is convinced that God was telling him to enter the race to be PM.

Christians, like everybody else, need to make decisions. In some things, we can be certain of God’s will – for example, being faithful in marriage. In choosing which job to take and which training course to take, different people will proceed with different degrees of certainty. 

In starting the Christian newspaper Eternity, for example, this writer proceeded on the basis that if God chose to bless it, it would be seen as God’s will. But much earlier in life, I had a strong sense of peace – as Morrison describes it – about standing in a student election to edit the campus paper, with a group of people praying about it.

Some Christians will find Morrison’s experience entirely consonant with how God has led them, and others might respond by thinking, “That has never happened to me.” Others will remember that God has led them in different ways at different times. 

Some will question to what degree identifying with Old Testament characters is helpful. Arguing by Scriptural analogy needs to be treated with caution – God is not obligated to treat everyone as Moses, but he can.

Morrison finishes his Moses chapter by asking everyone to take up their staff and follow God’s purposes. This is an “imitate me as I imitate Moses” moment, which might be a useful challenge to some but not every reader.

Morrison provides a corrective to this idea when he describes what must have been a devastating failure earlier in his career – when he was booted out of his job as managing director of Tourism Australia. “I’d … let myself believe I had been the architect of my success. I had vested far too much of my own sense of identity in my purpose, vocation, and status. This was sandy ground. I had bought the full beachfront block. The newly built house looked great. But when the storm hit, it crumbled. I felt worthless.

“Joel helped me understand that God was much more interested in His relationship with me than in what I did. We don’t have to prove anything to God, even the things we think we are doing for Him. God’s love has nothing to do with what we think we can offer. He loves us just as we are, in all our brokenness.”

There is a necessary tension in Scott Morrison’s book – as there is in real life for Christians, of the limits to which we can be in touch with God’s will – knowing what is right. This uncertainty crops up as Morrison discusses Covid – where there is no Moses in sight.

“But we can’t claim to have gotten everything right. No one in the world did. We had our setbacks and our critics. In a crisis you never get everything right. What matters is how you respond when things don’t work out how you planned. However, even with our setbacks, whether it was early on in the rollout of our vaccine program or later when we had trouble obtaining rapid antigen tests, when you look at the results objectively, Australia’s pandemic response led the world. Our health plan worked. Compared to the death rates from COVID in other developed countries with comparable health systems, we saved thirty thousand lives. To illustrate, the New York Times calculated that nine hundred thousand lives would have been saved in the United States if it had the same death rate as Australia.”

Covid might have been Morrison’s finest moment, but this part of the book does not claim miracles or divine guidance. He did pray hard, though, and Australia should be grateful.

Plans for Your Good: A Prime Minister’s Testimony of God’s Faithfulness, Scott Morrison, Harper Collins Available from Koorong $48.99 and $34.99

Image credit: CNAS