In one of our house church gatherings a member was sharing from Isaiah 50. He focused on v. 4ff, ‘The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He awakens me morning my morning, wakens my ear to listen like someone being taught. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious…’ [The Prophecy of Isaiah is a ‘salvation symphony’ in three movements, viz. judgment, comfort and hope. Chap. 50 depicts Israel’s failure as ‘the servant of the LORD’ (the nation was rotten to the core with sham religion and pagan idolatry) and announces an alternative ‘obedient servant’ who would bring ‘good news’ to all people]
While he was finishing up, I browsed through the latter part of Is. 50 which reads (v. 10ff), ‘Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.’ Ouch!
When we as humans turn from God’s loving call [in Creation, our conscience, history and the Bible itself], we develop deaf ears to his ‘gentle whispers’ (e.g. the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:12). When we become self-sufficient and clever in our own eyes, when we start building our own towers and empires (national or personal), we resort to ‘lighting matches in the dark.’ In my country we’ve experienced power outages from time to time. We have to resort to matches and candles. While helpful, one can hardly read or work by their inferior light.
Herewith some moral and spiritual pointers for society, the Church and our personal life:
- While shopping during the Christmas holidays, I took special note of people and their behaviour around me. It seemed so many were in a bubble, unaware of anyone else. As a child and teen I was taught to be aware of people around me, to take note of others’ personal space and to be courteous. These days, some people will walk right over you unless you jump out of their way! It’s as if they’re the only people on the planet and the universe revolves around them. Maybe I’m too jaundiced in my outlook: or are most people more ego-centric today? One is reminded of the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Tim. 3:1-5/MSG, ‘As the end approaches (in the Bible, ‘the end’ begins with Jesus’ first advent), people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck up, profane… allergic to God…’
- My wife and I have been asked to pray for a number of younger folk in our family-and-friends’ circle. Two claim to be atheists, the one is suffering from acute anxiety despite many positives in his life. Another young man has recently ‘come out of the closet’ and committed to a gay relationship. Over the years my wife and I have been privileged to walk a long road with at least a dozen folk struggling with sexual identity. We have at all times tried to be understanding, sensitive and compassionate (we remain good friends to this day). In my research on this topic I have read of many LGBTIQ folk who, on advice (from renowned apologist Ravi Zacharias, et al) have seriously asked their Creator to reveal to them their true sexual identity. This exercise has been challenging to the core but enlightening and even transforming. Having exegeted the Book of Romans over a life-time, I am yet to be convinced that our Creator is himself confused and/or caught off guard by these issues and that he condones what is being peddled on every hand as ‘the new normal.’ If you take a slice of cake, you don’t ask the cake what variety it is but the baker. Again, referring to Zacharias, God purposes every believer’s body to be his holy ‘temple’ in this world, in order to honour him who redeemed us (1 Cor. 3:16; 3:19). That’s not always a convenient truth, even for heterosexual believers, for we all wrestle with powerful sexual urges and impulses. However, in and through Christ, we are able to discipline our bodies in order to remain as pure as we can possibly be (cf. Rom. 6). I have always admired the writings of Henri Nouwen, the brilliant Dutch theologian who gave the latter part of his life to serving the disabled at L’Arche Community in Canada. Toward the end of his life he confessed an attraction to men rather than women. Despite this he took an oath of celibacy, ‘for Jesus’ sake.’ He did so, compelled not by church rules so much as by the love of the Father welcoming the prodigal (Lk. 15:11ff). Sure, we must rid the Church of legalism, but equally from libertinism (‘anything and everything goes’).**
- I also recall, with regard to the Church, someone suggesting that, in the absence of genuine awakening in the Body, some will resort to lighting matches rather than relying on God’s fire from above and within. We see this particularly in so much contemporary, up-front performances with sound, smoke and lighting effects trying to evoke ‘worship’ from those looking on from pews in the dark. These are largely man-made efforts bringing no lasting change. (cf. the frantic false prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:25ff… LOL!)
- Some of my readers may be truly searching for God. You’ve been burnt by ‘Church-as-we-know-it,’ you’ve been hurt by well-meaning ‘Christians,’ etc. You may at this point be a sincere and well-meaning atheist. May I humbly suggest you read up on the brilliant C.S. Lewis’s journey from atheism to faith in his ‘Surprised by Joy!’ You may also enjoy listening to the contemporary testimony of the bright young atheist-turned-apologist, David Wood. cf. his ‘Why I am a Christian’ on YouTube.
Two final applications from Is. 50:
- God’s saints are urged to rely on his wisdom and grace, especially in dark days (v. 10). Sometimes we may feel like we’re abandoned to darkness***, but he is not far-off and will surely come to light our candle in those seasons. When the psalmist David was being hunted down by his enemies he exclaimed, ‘You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light! With your help I can run through a barricade; with my God I can scale a wall!’ (Ps. 18:28-29).
- Those so caught up with themselves that they don’t grasp their dependence on God are warned not to trust in themselves! We so easily default to our own righteousness and incense. Many seek happiness in themselves, ‘reason,’ subjective (often hedonistic) experience, possessions and human achievements rather than in God himself (they’re like puppies chasing their tail – ignore the tail and behold it follows). Ironically, they are urged to ‘walk in the light of their own fire!’ Their day of utter darkness draws near, for God ultimately grants us our wishes! (cf. C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Great Divorce’)
May I gently call you to Jesus****, who declared to the religious establishment (‘Church’) and common folk of his day, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life!’ (Jn. 8:12) May we as individual believers and ecclesiae all over the world respond by following Jesus and being surprised by his incomparable joy!
** I’m aware that many Christians will not agree with my outlook here. I respect your sincerely held views. I simply ask that you will do the same with mine. Thank you.
*** My wife and I and our family have ourselves been through some dark days, including acute depression, near-death (both of us), the gang-rape of our daughter, the suicide attempt of our son, etc. The sun does shine again!
**** Unfortunately we have been conditioned by the Church’s and our world’s false images of God. See my recent blogs on ‘What Does God Look Like?’ and glimpse something of his beauty and glory!