FEASTING OR STARVING Often we find that works on history manage to incorporate the word ‘crisis’ into their titles. One does not have to read many such books before […]
FEASTING OR STARVING
Often we find that works on history manage to incorporate the word ‘crisis’ into their titles. One does not have to read many such books before it seems that all of human history has been a series of crises – only the names have changed, and some details, but that is all. In the eighth century B.C. the prophet Amos saw a crisis was imminent: ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land – not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it’ (Amos 8:11-12). His near-contemporary, Hosea, sounded the same alarm: ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge, because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me, and since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children’ (Hos.4:6).
The crisis of the eighth century B.C. looks rather like the crisis of the twenty-first century. It is not uncommon for people who are not sure how many genders there are to mock the Bible as the fountainhead of all superstition. Those who think the universe somehow created itself regard this as science while the evidence of design and creation is dismissed as not worthy of investigation. People will seriously suggest that the fact that there are so many translations means that the Bible must have been radically changed over the centuries – as if translators only translated from previous translations. Youngsters who cannot spell ‘New Testament’ are sure that it can be safely dismissed, or even that Jesus never existed as an historical figure.
This is a famine of the Word in modern Australia – indeed across the whole Western world. In Elijah’s day – a century before the days of Hosea and Amos – the situation was not quite as bad as Elijah himself believed (1 Kings 19:14-18). The stance of the jeremiads may be overdone, but at times there is a strong case for regarding them as wildly optimistic.
While the experts on Q&A reject the Bible, even more disturbing is the prevalence of distortion and evasion within the professing Church. Self-proclaimed evangelicals can identify an apostate theology as suitable for a certain section of the wildly diverse body of Christ. In that way we can relate to one another in a winsome way. Bishops who cannot affirm that marriage is for one man and one woman perform contortions to demonstrate how this fits in with Jesus’ loving approach to all humanity.
Christians need to be assured that the Bible as the Word of God is sufficient (e.g. Prov.30:5-6), and does not require the latest sociological research to correct it. Furthermore, this Word is clear, like a lamp shining in a dark place (2 Pet.1:19). Zephaniah may be a struggle, and we may well understand why, after Calvin’s death in 1564, his fellow pastor, Nicolas Colladon, let it out that Calvin never preached on the book of Revelation because he did not understand everything in it. Yet essentially the message of the Bible is as clear as any bright morning sun: we are sinners who cannot save ourselves from sin and death, but the God-man, Jesus Christ, has come to defeat sin and death for us. This word is not a timid suggestion but a powerful proclamation. Indeed, God’s word shall not return to Him empty, but shall accomplish all that God has purposed for it (Isa.55:10-11). Many preach an anaemic reflection of the wisdom of the world, and tag some biblical references to it. They have their reward.
We are to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut.8:3; Matt.4:4). A complacent world and a compliant Church may be struggling with a famine of the word, but this need not be the case. God invites all to come and buy wine and milk without money and without price. We are to eat what is good, and delight ourselves in rich food (Isa.55:1-2). God is no niggardly host; He has provided far more than we need, and it is free to every sinner.
In commenting on Isaiah 26:6-9 on the glorious feast of the gospel, Richard Sibbes set himself a wonderful task: ‘Now I will shew why Christ, with his benefits, prerogatives, graces and comforts, is compared to a feast’. The world offers spiritual malnutrition, and the compromising Church offers nothing different. Christ offers spiritual nourishment for life everlasting. Let us all feed on His word.
With warm regards in Christ,
Rev. Dr Peter Barnes, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Australia