CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Does it Mean Nothing To You?

May 1, 2012

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: www.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?

[1642 words]

22 Responses to Does it Mean Nothing To You?

  • Amen.
    Jeremy Hopwood

  • Bill, regarding the Queensland man now in prison for his continued stand against abortion, do you have any idea how his family is being cared for financially. I would like to assist, if it is needed.

    Steve Swartz

  • Thanks for this Bill – it truly is time for Christians to wake up. Apart from your blogs, folks could read “When a Nation Forgets God – 7 lessons we must learn from Nazi Germany” by Erwin W Lutzer.
    We are without excuse – we have been warned, and complacency has frightening results.
    When the church of God abandons its cultural responsibility the civilization dies.
    Jeanette McHardy

  • Thanks Jeanette

    Yes it is a great book and I review it here:

    www.billmuehlenberg.com/2011/05/10/a-review-of-when-a-nation-forgets-god-by-erwin-lutzer/

    And I got my Holocaust quote from that volume as well.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • We can all try doing missionary work as well, it may not be much, but we can reach people, one person at a time. It might not sound like much, but remember the nation of Israel started with 1 person. Oh and getting outside of oneself and doing a bit of charity work never hurts either.

    Neil Waldron

  • As you say Bill, none of us can answer every call or meet every need but I feel sure that each of us is called to prayer, fasting and some form of action in the fight against evil which faces the Church and the world in our day.I find fasting the hardest of the three.I find skipping complete meals very difficult but can manage giving up other things a little better — complaining about my health issues — my time — having the last word in a dispute — my choice of meal (my husband likes liver, I LOATHE IT) Laughably small things but hopefully better than nothing.
    In all your articles you challenge us and remind us, in different ways, that “passing by on the other side of the road” is not an option for the followers of Jesus.
    Anna Cook

  • Tyranny: The High Cost of Forgetting God – produced by Coral Ridge Ministries
    www.dailymotion.com/video/xdxvvk_tyranny-the-high-cost-of-forgetting_webcam

    We are also up against the UN’s powerful “Agenda 21”
    www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/ (this agenda is in plain sight for all concerned to read) It is already being adopted in North America, and beyond…

    It is the One World Order “Mein Kampf” for the 21st century: Centralization, “sustainable densification”, control, dehumanization and depopulation. This is reality.

    View it. Read it, Inform everyone you know, inside and outside your church. And PRAY. God with us!

    Monica Craver

  • Perhaps someone can help me here. Why is it that church leaders in the main, especially evangelicals, do not see any need to rock the boat and engage the culture?

    I am reading a book “The Household of God” written by Leslie Newbiggin, an Anglican Bishop from India and in it he says that Jesus came to redeem the whole of creation, not just people.”

    If that is the case, and I believe it is, why does God’s new creation ignore the rest of his creation and those outside of the Kingdom of God.

    In the next few weeks, my fellowship is going to look at the subject of abortion. That is the first time in my 31 years in Australia that it has been addressed in a church setting by a church leader.

    Roger Marks

  • Your comment …

    “Paying for your petrol, and you walk by a rack or soft porn magazines. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?””

    … reminded me of when I was in primary school and my parents were considering the purchase of a newsagency. They were told that if they refused to stock pornographic magazines, that they would not be supplied with any magazines, making the business worthless and unprofitable. So that was the end of that consideration.

    So much for anyone’s “freedom of conscience.” That would have been late 60s early 70s.

    Graeme Cumming

  • Thanks Monica for posting the video link. The old Russian peasant’s comments are truly a warning for us today in our country as well, when he said: “We have turned our backs on God, and we have destroyed ourselves.”
    Trevor Grace

  • Thank you for this article. I find many of your articles challenging in that they make me stop and think of the things I am NOT doing. Now that I am older, sometimes the most I can do is pray – but I do believe that prayer makes the impossible, possible so perhaps it is not such a small thing after all.
    Joan Davidson

  • Thanks Joan

    Yes prayer is our first and most fundamental duty. And for many of us, much more can be done as well: putting feet to our prayers.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Re the story of the passing trains with Jews, can anyione tell me what this church could have done at that time under the ruthless totalitarian regieme of the Nazies? And if you know would you have done it?
    Joost Gemeren

  • Thanks Joost

    But we already know what could have been done, because some people did it. Committed Christians like Bonhoeffer ended up joining with others in an attempt to kill Hitler. He of course was captured and paid for this with his life. Church history is full of examples of people who have stood up and been counted when it mattered, even when it meant the ultimate sacrifice. It is called martyrdom, and it is not surprising, since our Lord did that very thing for us. And we are coming to that place where we too may well have to keep following Jesus, even if it means being put to death.

    But such willingness for martyrdom of course makes sense only if we have already done what we are expected to do as the followers of Jesus: deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. When we come to Jesus, we are telling him we are dying to self, and no longer have ownership over our own lives.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Yes Bill, I just recently read the biography of D. Bohoeffer. I lived for 5 years under German occupation, and there were many great heros. I made this comment, especially the second question to underline the seriousness of the situation when you are in the midst of it. It can be so easy to say these things in the comfort of Australia behind a computer, but the reality in the actual situation is almost unimaginable.
    Joost Gemeren

  • Thanks Joost

    I am not saying that such resistance was easy, but that it was in fact done, at least by a brave few. All genuine living and service for Christ is costly and demanding. It is never easy to be a real disciple of Jesus Christ. But we need to make up our minds ahead of time if we are willing to pay the price, and not wait until things heat up. With all due respect, much of the German church back then was compromised, uncommitted and carnal. That is why we saw so little resistance to the evils of Hitler and the Nazis. But fortunately the Confessing Church and the Barmen Declaration were glimmers of hope in a dark situation. Bonhoeffer, Niemoller and others were committed Christians who in both life and death gave a solid witness to their Lord. But I discuss all this further here:

    www.billmuehlenberg.com/2011/04/26/lessons-from-bonhoeffer/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • What has been discussed in the comments reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain:
    “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.”
    Monica Craver

  • Thanks Monica

    I have always found of real interest the list offered in the book of Revelation, telling us who will not inherit Christ’s Kingdom. Leading the list are the fearful, or the cowardly (Rev 21:8). Those lacking in courage will in effect deny their Lord in the time of battle. That is why we must decide now whom we will serve. And during those dark times, God will provide us with the grace needed to in fact withstand and persevere.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I don’t know whether this is an idle thought but it occurred to me that situations faced by ordinary people under tyrannical oppression such as that experienced during WW1, when an individual had to make the agonising decision of whether to obey the law and betray their Jewish neighbour or even wife or child, or face the consequences, were exceptional. And we think, thank goodness we were never put to that kind of test? But the thought occurred to me that evil has become so pervasive in the world and in the West in particular, on a scale that we would never have dreamt of only a decade or so ago, that very soon all of us going to be in that position. Society is already being polarised between the cowardly and courageous. Indeed the seeds of civil war seem to be brewing daily. Every day I have conversations with family members, friends and neighbours where in effect conversations around abortion, homosexuality and pornography have become shibboleths. Who is on the Lord’s side?

    David Skinner, UK

  • So true David.
    These issues especially homosexuality, really reveals the true hearts of men. This week I have been saddened to learn that the super expensive private independent Christian school which my child attends is being lead by people who support homosexuality. One teacher has now taken it as her personal mission to explain to children how her in depth bible study has proved beyond a doubt that homosexuality is not a sin. They consider the school a place to show ‘love and acceptance’ to all. I am absolutely floored by this information and am having to consider for the second time to leave yet another such school. This does explain why the principal refused to advertise the senate submissions in the school newsletter when I repeatedly asked.
    I really do not want to homeschool but it appears I am fast running out of options.
    Annette Williams

  • Yes it is a real worry Annette.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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