Do you care as you pass by and witness tragedy and devastation?
Christians are meant to represent the God that we love and serve to the rest of the world. The sort of God that he is is what we are meant to be sharing with others. Is God a holy God? Yes, so we should be reflecting his holiness in our own lives.
Is he just, loving, gracious, pure, and true? Yes, so those qualities should feature in our lives as well. Related to this, we need to share in the heart of God: we need to care about what he cares about, rejoice in what he rejoices in, and grieve over what he grieves about.
The more time we spend being with God and seeking to know him, the more we will become like him. And out of that we can more faithfully and more accurately represent him to the rest of the world. As the Apostle Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
That is basic Christianity 101. Here I want to look at just one aspect of this. As I mentioned, we should care deeply about the things God cares deeply about. What breaks the heart of God should break our hearts. What grieves God should grieve us. Let me speak to this more, based on a verse I just again read.
The short book of Lamentations (just five chapters) is all about the fall of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Babylonians. Because of Israel’s continual sin and disobedience, God used the Babylonians as his instrument of judgment, and many Israelites were taken away into captivity. They became exiles – strangers in a strange land.
For more on this important Old Testament book, see here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/12/11/bible-study-helps-lamentations/
Just one verse in the book is worth drawing your attention to here. Lamentations 1:12a says this:
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see. (NIV)
Or as Old Testament scholar Leslie Allen rendered this verse:
Should it not be your concern, all you passersby?
Take notice and look!
How could any of God’s people not be utterly shell-shocked, disturbed, and despondent over what had happened? How could this utter devastation NOT bother them immensely? Lamentations 3:49-51 speaks of the right sort of response to all this:
My eyes will flow without ceasing,
until the Lord from heaven
looks down and sees;
my eyes cause me grief
at the fate of all the daughters of my city.
Other texts express the same emotional and mental grief over what has befallen God’s people. As we read in Psalm 137:1-4:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
So what is the Christian takeaway on all this? Some might say, ‘So what? That was long ago and involved ancient Israel.’ But the point is this: just as the true people of God cared deeply about what was happening to them back then, so too all true Christians should grieve deeply over what is happening in the world today, and what is happening in the church today.
In many ways the church today in the West finds itself in cultural captivity. We too are strangers in a strange land. We too live in a hostile environment, and we face majorities who look down on what we value and believe. Every day we see more and more attacks on the Christian faith, more blatant cases of anti-Christian bigotry, and more outright persecution of devout followers of Christ.
All these things should bother us, as they bother God. Does it bother us as we witness the rise of an aggressive secular left and its war on all things Christian? Does it disturb us as we see the ongoing assaults on faith, family and freedom? Do we care about the erosion of religious liberty and the growth of Big Brother government?
Simply looking at the many parallels between what is happening today as power-hungry leaders whip up hysteria and panic about a virus, taking away our most basic of human rights and freedoms, and what we saw happening in Germany in the 1930s, should make us all shudder.
And there are numerous people who actually survived the Holocaust who are still alive today that have pointed out these ominous similarities. They are deeply troubled and frightened by what they see happening today. And they have every right to be so concerned. We should be too.
I conclude with a few remarks about Lam. 1:12. One commentator, J. Daniel Hays reminds us of what is going on in this verse “The image is of the grieving, weeping widow (Jerusalem) looking up and addressing those who walk by.” Robin Parry explains further:
Lady Jerusalem opens her first main speech (1:12-16) by turning from addressing YHWH to addressing those passing by. Calling on those passing by is a common motif in a destruction scene. Passers-by play the conventional role of witnesses to disaster and often of mockers (Ps. 89:41). The audience is cast in the role of passers-by and drawn in by this address as Jerusalem’s words to onlookers reach out of the page to the readers. She invites the readers to look at her but not to mock her. Has she given up on YHWH, and is she now looking for solace in those gawping at her? It is not clear at this point, but what is clear is that she needs a comforter to stand with her, and thus she calls out to bystanders.
Lastly, Leslie Allen, who I mentioned above, says this about the text:
In stanza 12, the initial appeal is an indirect allusion to Zion’s plight and her craving for comfort. A scenario occasionally described in the Old Testament (e.g., 1 Kings 9:8-9; Jer. 19:8; 22:8-9), one that must have been commonplace in the ancient world, portrays travellers passing by a city once vibrant with life but now destroyed by enemy attack. They stand and look at the ruins with curious horror and then pass on, shaking their heads in shock. A contemporary scenario is the way drivers on the freeway slow down to look with horrified fascination at the result of a tragic accident. Here Zion puts herself in the ancient scenario, as she will later, in Lamentations 2:15. She pleads for some feelings of humanity to be shown by these imaginary travelers, though she knows the stereotyped scenario is not scripted that way.
(As I typed those words, I could not help but think of similar images in Australia with lockdown mania destroying so many once lively and thriving cities. They now lay empty, deserted, and graffitied with countless shops and businesses never again to reopen. Could it be that Covid and power-drunk politicians are God’s judgment on a sinful nation?)
Other Old Testament passages say similar sorts of things about the need for God’s people to grieve with godly grief. I have often quoted Amos 6:1-7 for example. Let me do so again:
Woe to you who are complacent in Zion,
and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
you notable men of the foremost nation,
to whom the people of Israel come!
Go to Kalneh and look at it;
go from there to great Hamath,
and then go down to Gath in Philistia.
Are they better off than your two kingdoms?
Is their land larger than yours?
You put off the day of disaster
and bring near a reign of terror.
You lie on beds adorned with ivory
and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs
and fattened calves.
You strum away on your harps like David
and improvise on musical instruments.
You drink wine by the bowlful
and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile;
your feasting and lounging will end.
Woe to you if you are complacent and do not grieve over Israel’s downfall. Or in this case, woe to you if you do not give a rip about the church’s downfall, or Australia’s downfall, or America’s, etc. Does none of this bother you? Does it not concern you at all? If it does not, you may need to repent and ask God to break your heart with what breaks his heart.
Yes, I recognise that we are all different, and people do have differing personalities, temperaments, outlooks and so on. Some folks seem to be always positive, upbeat and happy, while others are more gloomy and solemn. But regardless of this, we all can seek to share in more of what is on the heart of God as we see things collapsing all around us. We must share in his grief, and we must shed tears over what we see.
Or is it simply nothing to you as you pass by?