14. People Matter
We live in a world tired and bored with itself. Each day, week, month
and year is for them just the same old scene. Flat emotions, a radical
indifference to others, the sensation of drifting, numbness, a resigned
acceptance of a world gone mad… And we too, in our weak moments, can feel
the same. Why am I living? What is this circus all about? Can one person
among five billion make a difference on this planet? What is a human being,
but a tiny blip in the billion-year progression of history? “Carl Jung
reported that a third of his cases suffered from no definable neurosis
other than “the senselessness and emptiness of their lives”. He went on
to name meaninglessness the general neurosis of the modern era”(1).
And this isn’t only true of the richer worlds. Poorer people, locked into
a cycle of struggle for survival, doing repetitive work, riding crisis
after crisis towards no meaningful end, are in just the same problem.
Everyone, rich or poor, predictably sequence their lives, and the syndrome
of ‘the same old scene’ inevitably develops.
One of the hardest things about God to believe is that really, all men
matter…you matter. I matter. How we speak, what we do and think, is incredibly
significant to God. It is a staggering thought that the Creator of heaven
and earth should care about how an obscure individual man behaves toward
poor widows, orphans, his wife… Perceiving that we are so important
to God means that for us, life needn’t be the same old scene, weighed
down in the mire of mediocrity. For us, there is newness of life in Christ;
the urgency to the daily round that comes from truly knowing our desperation;
a dynamic relationship with a passionate, feeling God; a life that shares
His undying passion for the lost; an emotional prayer life; and the constant
energising that comes from our grasp of the Gospel. These are the headings
under which I want to consider why for us, life is far from that ‘same
Newness Of Life
The Lord Jesus died and rose as our representative. Therefore we live
out His life, His death, His rising again to new life; and so as we sing,
“into my life your power breaks through, living Lord”.
The life that He lived and the death that He died become ours (Rom. 6:10
RV). We identified with that life, that death, at baptism. But it’s an
ongoing thing. We live in newness of life. The life in Christ
is not a stagnant pond, but rather living water, spring water, bubbling
fresh from the spring. And this is what we give out to others- for “he
that believeth in me, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of
springing water” for others (Jn. 4:10; 7:38). We can experience the life
of Christ right now. His life is now made manifest in our mortal flesh
(2 Cor. 4:11), insofar as we seek to live our lives governed by the golden
rule: ‘What would Jesus do…?’. The life that He had and now lives is the
essence of the Kingdom life. Who He was and is, this is the definition
of the Kingdom life. It’s why one of His titles is “the kingdom of God”
(Lk. 17:21). And it’s why it can be said that we ‘have’ eternal life now,
in that we can live the essence of the life we will eternally live, right
now. Is. 42:9,10 says that we sing the “new song” now, because we sing
/ meditate of the “new things” which will be in the Kingdom. In that day,
we will “sing a new song” (Rev. 5:9; 14:3). And yet this is undoubtedly
picking up on the way in which we can now sing the ‘new song’,
every morning (Ps. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1). Likewise, all
things will be made new at the Lord’s coming (Rev. 21:5), and yet those
in whom the new creation is worked out already have all things made new
in their spiritual experience (2 Cor. 5:17,18). The Kingdom will hardly
be the same old scene. There is and will be something dynamic in our relationship
with the Father and Son. The Lord Jesus spoke of how He ‘knows’ the Father
and ‘knows’ us His sheep in the continuous tense (Jn. 10:14,15)- He was
‘getting to know’ the Father, and He ‘gets to know’ us. And this is life
eternal, both now and then, that we might get to know the one
true God and His Son (Jn. 17:3). The knowing of God and His Son is not
something merely academic, consisting only of facts. It is above all an
experience, a thrilling and dynamic one. There is no “new thing under
the sun” (Ecc. 1:9)- all in this world is born to roll downhill. And yet
in Christ, all things are made new in an ongoing sense. The emotions and
feelings of meaninglessness are commented upon in great detail in Ecclesiastes.
There is a thrilling duality in that book- the contrast between life as
it is “under the sun”, and the contrasting imperative for the believer
to live life God’s way. The exhortation is to live life God’s way
with all our zeal, exactly because of the vanity and ‘same old
scene’ nature of the natural life.
The Thrill Of Grace
It can be, though, that we perceive even our service of God as the same
old scene- the same round of daily Bible readings (although, why not try
reading from another version or in another language?), the same cycle
of ecclesial meetings and Bible schools. The same faces, the same issues.
But our experience of grace means “that we should serve in newness
of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6). We don’t have
to serve God in the sense that He grants us salvation by pure grace, not
by works. But just because we don’t have to do it, we do. This
is the power of grace; it doesn’t force us to monotonous service, but
should be a wellspring of fresh motivation, to do perhaps the same things
with an ever fresh spirit. The pure wonder of it all needs to
be felt- that for nothing but pure faith the Lord will grant
us eternal redemption for the sake of the Lord’s death and resurrection.
Which is why Rom. 6:4 says that because of this, and our appropriation
of it in baptism, we therefore live in newness of life, a quality
of life that is ever new. Through His death, a new and living way is opened
(Heb. 10:20). We share the ever fresh life which the Lord lived from His
resurrection. It does us good to try to imagine that scene- the Son of
God, coming out of the grave at daybreak. He would have seen the lights
of Jerusalem shimmering away in the distance, a few kms. away, as everyone
woke up and went back to work, the first day after the long holiday. Getting
the children ready, caring for the animals…it was back to the same old
scene. But as they did so, the Son of God was rising to newness of life,
standing alone in the fresh morning air, with a life that was ever new,
with a joy and dynamism that was to know no end…His feelings are beyond
us, but all the same, distorted by our nature, by our spiritual dysfunction,
into our lives His life breaks through.
If in the daily round we can know how desperate we are, the
urgency of our spiritual situation, we will appreciate the more finely
what the Lord has done and is daily doing for us, and will be motivated
to make an urgent, joyful response. As a student at London University
I recall an over-zealous evangelical spraying on a wall: “Jesus is the
answer”. But a few days later, someone scrawled underneath: “But what’s
the question?”. And this is simply so. The whole wonder of God’s truth
as it is in Christ is totally lost on us unless we see our desperate need;
unless we perceive the problem. And the wider wonder of it will only be
appreciated, the thrill felt, if we feel something of the whole of humanity’s
desperation; if we see the tragedy of human existence without the Truth.
One way of realising the seriousness of our sin is to recognise that
each sin we commit, we could have avoided. We must hang our heads, time
and again. In the very end, we can blame neither our circumstances nor
our natures, even though these are factors in the committal of each sin.
We must each bear total personal responsibility for every sin, both of
commission and omission. We must hang our heads. James, as he often does,
foresees how in practice we may reason that fervent prayer isn’t possible,
because…we are angry, low, tired, don’t feel like it. So we tell ourselves.
But James cuts across all this: “Elijah was a man subject to like passions
[RVmg “nature”] as we”- and yet he prayed earnestly (James 5:17).
We can’t excuse our lack of prayer by blaming it on the “passions” of
our natures. Men like Elijah had the same nature as we do, prone to the
same depression and mediocrity, and yet they prayed fervently.
Job fell into the trap of thinking that his terrible situation somehow
allowed him to speak whatever words came into his head. Consider:
- “Doth the wild ass bray when he hath grass? Or loweth the ox over
his fodder?” (6:5). Job felt he hadn’t been ‘fed’ and so he was entitled
to “bray” and “low” over his misfortune.
- Because “my calamity [is] heavier than the sand of the seas, therefore
have my words been rash” (6:3 RV).
- “Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish
of my spirit” (7:11).
- “I will give free course to my complaint. I will speak in the bitterness
of my soul” (10:1 RV).
- Zophar criticises Job being “full of talk” and speaking “the multitude
of words”, “for thou sayest, my doctrine is pure” (11:1-4)- as if Job
felt that because he held true doctrine he was justified in pouring
out words as he did.
- “Why should I not be impatient?” (21:4 RV).
- “Today is my complaint bitter. My stroke is heavier than my groaning”
(23:2)- i.e. his complaining was due to his sufferings.
- “If I hold my peace, I shall give up the spirit” (13:19 RVmg.).
Job felt that the situation he was in forced him to use the
words he did, and certainly justified it [we may well have used this reasoning
ourselves when justifying the use of bad language]. But in the end, Elihu
on God’s behalf rebuked him for his wrong words. And Job himself recognised:
“I am vile. I will lay mine hand upon my mouth” in regret of his words
(40:4). “Wherefore I loathe my words and repent” (42:6 RVmg.). He realized
his mistake: he had thought that the situation justified his words. Now
he hung his head and admitted that there was no justification for speaking
in the way he had. Especially in the matter of the tongue, we can so easily
justify ourselves; ‘I only said / did it [or didn’t do it] because…’.
And it is all so child-like. Once we leave off all attempts at
self-justification, we will face up to our sins. Let us kneel at our bed
sides and confess without reserve our sin. And we will thereby
realize the more finely our utter desperation. And the vital force, the
nerve, the most essential idea of Christianity will be unleashed in us
afresh: that we are desperate sinners, and the Son of God, as one like
us, died to save us from our desperate situation, and to grant us a gracious
place in His Kingdom. And we will respond, not therefore in mediocrity,
but in lives of active grace and dynamic service.
(1) Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus
Read (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), p. 144.