I have frequently noticed that whenever a strong message of national judgement has gone out Christians are left puzzled about what they can or should do in response. They may well agree with the diagnosis of the national situation and even with the truth of coming judgement, but then feel quite helpless because there is very little they feel they can do to stand against the powerful forces which are driving society downwards. How do you puncture the media’s vested interest in blatant sex and violence? It’s too big! How do you make a move against kleptocracy, those that steal their countries resources for their own personal ends? It’s too remote! How do you combat the growing levels of corruption in all walks of life? etc. These are great swirling tides that overwhelm us and leave us feeling helpless and demoralised. So, the question that is uppermost is, “What do you want us to do?” It is the same question that was asked of John the Baptist in response to his preaching.
Our first instinct, as always in a dilemma, is to say we must cry out to God. We may take strength and refuge in a scripture such as 1 Timothy 2:1ff, “I urge then first of all that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God ….” This at least encourages us to look for God’s restraint, for God can handle swirling tides. But such prayer needs to be serious business. On the other hand some of us may be all too aware of the awful word that God gave to Amos and Jeremiah, namely that he would not listen to intercession that requested him to ward off judgement; he had made up his mind – judgement was to come. The only option then is Habakkuk’s prayer that mercy may accompany his judgements –“in wrath, remember mercy”. When faced with an “Amos word”, “I will spare them no longer” prayer is by no means easy to focus. Prayer will not necessarily counter a coming judgment! (see A Nation Beyond Prayer)
The command that went out with strong prophetic words of judgement was, however, always loud and clear. It was “Repent!” It was “Turn back from your evil ways!” Many of us long that some very powerful prophetic call of that nature might appear in the nation, and particularly in high places. We would like to see someone emerge who would “take on” the elite opinion formers. The generation to which first John the Baptist and then Jesus was sent was a generation under judgement (witness John’s comment that “the axe was already at the root”) and the first word that both Jesus and his forerunner uttered in public ministry was “Repent!” It is very sobering to think that even that dual call was rejected by a godless society and a godless leadership. The “Kingdom of Heaven was about to be revealed” but it was not wanted. However, the important thing we have to recognise is that the call to repent is not simply something “out there” for a godless nation, but for everyone, including god-fearing people – the church, Christians.
The reason for this call to the church is very simple: a godless, unclean generation has an insinuating way of polluting even those who seek to be godly. The effect of moral degeneration is sinister in the way in that it creeps by degrees into the very culture and stance and heart of society and warps the best of us. To give a simple example – we (Christians) find ourselves watching sexual and violent images on television of a kind that would have utterly shocked and ashamed people only a few years ago. Like the world we can be dulled by the mantra that such things are part of our growing up and our new freedom, and so we lose any sanction against them and are quickly tainted without our recognising the fact. We are more sullied than perhaps we realise.
The major call to Christians in our age of impending judgement is, therefore, to recover godliness and holiness as Jesus taught it, to live it out, to allow it to become a light in a dark place. It’s a call to holiness. A full blown grasp of the fact that God will devastatingly judge evil wherever it is to be found, is something we have to learn ourselves and to respond to in our own lives even as we contemplate judgement on an evil nation.
It is in the light of this that the Bible Page this week is given over to a study of “The Fear of the Lord”