We are told in Scripture that “the word of God is living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12), or “living and active” as other versions put it. In our daily reading God can and does speak to us, and his word is not dead, but living, able to speak to us in so many ways.
In my morning reading this again was the case. A passage in Lamentations jumped off the page and slapped me in the face. Of course as we should know, we must take care in how we read and interpret Scripture. We are to exegete, or find out what the meaning of a text is, and not isogete, or put our own meaning into the text.
This is not the place to enter into a lengthy theological and hermeneutical discussion, but generally speaking we can say that any given biblical text has one primary meaning, but may well have many secondary applications. The text in question, Lamentations 1:12, is of course found in the context of Jeremiah’s lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity.
So Jeremiah has that context in mind, but the passage in question can well be applied to other contemporary situations. The verse is this: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see” (Lam. 1:12). Obviously this is about the situation in Jerusalem.
The rest of the verse, about suffering and God’s wrath, has often been used to apply to Jesus and the crucifixion as well. But my immediate response to this was to apply it to the many situations of modern life, and the appalling lack of concern, even silence, that so many believers show to the important issues of the day.
A dozen examples raced through my mind when I read that passage. A few obvious ones can be mentioned:
-Walking past an abortion clinic, where so many are being led to the slaughter. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?”
-Strolling past a sleazy billboard on a crowded city street. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?”
-Paying for your petrol, and you walk by a rack or soft porn magazines. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?”
-Seeing a radical homosexual pride march going down the street. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?”
-Watching an elderly woman struggling to cross the street with an armful of groceries. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?”
I think you get what I mean. I am talking about caring for what we find happening around us. Do we have God’s heart for these matters? Does our heart break with what breaks the heart of God? Do we even care about these sorts of things? Does it mean anything to us?
Now a few qualifiers need to be mentioned here. As it has rightly been said, not every need constitutes a call. That is, there are needs all around us. Every day we may come upon dozens of worthy causes and big time needs. We obviously cannot deal with all of them, nor are we called to.
We would burn out in a week if we felt we must try to address every need we witnessed. So what I am saying here is more about our heart attitude. We cannot save the world, but we can do some good on a local level. And that begins with getting God’s heart on these matters.
We need to ask God to break our hearts with what breaks his. We need to ask God to give us some righteous indignation for what he is righteously indignant about. We need to hate sin as he hates sin, and love people as he loves people.
And I am not talking about mushy sentimentalism here. I am not saying we uncritical and un-discerningly just respond on an emotional level to every need we come across. For example, it will be noted that in my above list I did not mention, say, a poor beggar on the street.
Should we have compassion on such a person? Absolutely, but how we best show biblical love and compassion in that situation may well be an altogether different issue. That is, simply tossing a gold coin his way may in fact be counterproductive, keeping him enslaved in a cycle of dependency and irresponsibility.
Moreover, do we know where that money we just gave is going? It is one thing if he uses our charity money and buys himself a meal. It is quite another if he rushes out to buy another bottle of wine, or scores another hit of speed. Biblical love is always discerning and measured, not wanton and reckless.
So when people ask me what I would do in such a situation, I say it is probably unwise just to throw money at such a person. It may just be further subsidising his dangerous and dead-end lifestyle. If you really do feel called to meet his need in a tangible and positive way, then offer to take him to a nearby cafe for a bite to eat.
That way you know he is getting real value for money, if we can put it that way, and is not wasting or misusing your gift. And you get to talk to him, build a bit of a relationship with him, learn about his story, and perhaps be able to really help him in the longer term and in a more wholistic and realistic fashion.
So we need to see things the way God sees them. When I read Lam 1:12 this morning, the first issue that sprang to my mind was the abortion issue. Do God’s people actually care about this? Do they care about the 100,000 babies going to their slaughter every year in Australia?
Do they in fact care enough to actually do something about this? Or will they just move on to business as usual, and not allow themselves to even be bothered by such issues? Will they simply look the other way, or will they allow God to grab their heart?
Just yesterday I wrote about one Christian hero in Queensland who does care. He cares so much that he is now sitting in prison for another eight months. He has been in jail before, and his wife and seven children will again be left alone for another long stretch of time. But they all fully support him and his principled stance for the sanctity of life.
He is paying the price to stand up and make a difference. When he passed by the destruction of the innocents, it meant something to him. When he walked by the abortion clinic, or read the newspaper reports, his heart was broken, and he knew he could not remain silent. He knew he had to act.
He is a genuine hero who deeply cares. Do we? See his moving story here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/30/real-heroes-are-hard-to-come-by/
But it is not just the abortion issue of course that comes to mind here. The real point is this: do God’s people care at all? Are we upset when unrighteousness, injustice and evil triumphs in the land? Do we care when God’s name is dragged in the mud? Do we care that every day God is blasphemed and his Son is mocked, scoffed at and rejected?
Do we care about the millions facing a lost eternity? Do we care about a church that is mostly carnal, compromised, worldly and ineffective? Do we care about so many believers who are now backslidden or have left the church? Does it bother us that Christianity is on the wane in the West?
Do we care that we are losing our freedoms, our faith, and our families? Does any of this matter to us? Or are we so engrossed in ourselves, and so busy working 70 hours a week so we can buy the next plasma TV, an even fancier and newer car, and take yet another cruise ship tour somewhere?
I close with a story I have shared before, but we need to have this to wake us up, to slap us in the face, as this text did to me this morning. It concerns a German looking back at what took place during the Nazi reign of terror. Every one of us need to read this prayerfully and carefully, and ask God to break our hearts with it:
“I lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because, what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks.
“We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars! Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we could hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.
“We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it anymore. But I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me; forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene.”
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?