A World Waiting To Be Won  

14. People Matter

14-1 People Matter || 14-2 A Feeling God || 14-3 The Personal Pleading Of The Prophets || 14-4 Passionate Preaching And Prayer

15. Hearts That Bleed

15-1 Hearts That Bleed || 15-2 The Parable of The Three Friends || 15-3 Passion For The Lost || 15-4 Loving Our Brethren || 15-5 Reaching Those Who Left Church || 15-6 The Heart Of Jesus || 15-7 The Value Of Persons || 15-8 A dehumanized world || 15-9 Grieving for others || 15-10-1 The Spirit Of Prophecy || 15-10-2 The Counter-Cultural Message Of The Hebrew Prophets || 15-10-3 Frontal Attack On Indifference || 15-10-4 The Prophetic Attack On Pride And Wealth || 15-10-5 The Prophets And Injustice || 15-10-6 The Prophetic Criticism Of Israel’s Religion || 15-10-7 The Prophetic Experience And Prophetic Consciousness


15-10-3 Frontal Attack On Indifference

The reality of God’s anger, His hurt, His jealousy, means that God isn’t indifferent to sin. And neither should we be, increasingly surrounded by it as we are, with sin presented to us as the norm of human existence. We may feel or express disapproval at sin; but God’s reaction is something which language can’t convey. It results in the broken heart of God. This is the message of the prophets: that we must end our indifference, quite literally, for God’s sake. Sadly, many readers of the prophets seem to feel that these men are merely droning on, one prophet, one chapter, seems so much like the next. Yet read sensitively, and in a good translation, the words of the prophets expose us to a relentless shattering of indifference. Their words are onslaughts against cherished assumptions, patterns of living, challenging our endless evasions of issues, calling faith and behaviour to account. They are the very voice of God passionately imploring us to turn more fully to Him. Their task was “to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (Mic. 3:8; Is. 58:1). Jer. 28:9 seems to imply that no true prophet prophesied only peace to Israel- there was always an exposure of sin and an appeal to repentance. That was part of their ministry. And it was directed at the people of God, for the most part- to us, the ecclesia. And it’s indifference, lack of passion, which, it seems to me, is the besetting tragedy of our age. When did you last really shed tears? When were you moved, really wrenched in your gut, by the suffering of others, by the sin of this world, your own sin, your part in humanity’s tragic rejection of God… when did you last feel for God in His pain, as He sees His beloved children and creation walk away from Him day after day, second after second? When did you last feel ecstatic joy, deep sadness… in this post-modern world of surface level emotion? It’s in all this that the words of the prophets and their personal nature as people challenge us- and their spirit is to be the spirit of our testimony to Jesus in this world. They called upon men to “hate evil and love good” (Am. 5:15), to have some passion about our positions.

Our world’s devaluing and misunderstanding of sin has likely affected all of us. We see the rich abusing the poor, manipulation of all sorts going on, petty injustices, hypocrisy in the ecclesia, falsehood, cheating in business, white lies, unkindness to ones’ brethren… and we shrug and think that it’s just normal, part of life as it is. And yet for the prophets, these things were a catastrophe. Saying one thing to someone whilst feeling differently about them in the heart was the reason for God passionately wishing to take vengeance “on a nation such as this” (Jer. 9:8,9)- note that the whole nation are counted as guilty, in that society just shrugged at hypocritical words. What to us are the daily minor sins and injustices of life were to them issues of cosmic proportion. Nobody in our current society would consider what you think to be a criminal act; and nobody did in early Israel, either. But time and again, the prophets passionately call down judgment for “evil thoughts” and “evil hearts” (Jer. 3:17; 4:14; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; 14:14; 16:12; 18:12; 23:17). Sins committed in private we tend to accept as irrelevant to us; yet Hab. 2:11,12 says that “the stone shall cry out of the wall” because of wicked plans hatched within the walls of that room. “There is no regard for man” was the complaint of Is. 33:8- the value and meaning of the human person was disregarded. And this was the cause of ‘bitter weeping’ (Is. 33:7). Perhaps we could say that the prophets are characterized by taking the individual seriously. We seem to have a hard enough job maintaining a sense of the value of persons ourselves, quite apart from weeping that others don’t have such values. This level of sensitivity to human sin is quite something; and yet this is the spirit of prophecy. In the ancient world it was felt that , as Cicero put it, “the gods attend to great matters; they neglect small ones” (De Natura Deorum Vol. 2, 167). The God of Israel was and is quite different; for as the prophets show, what men may regard as small issues are to Him all and vitally important. That slightly unkind email, that less than truthful passing comment on a brother, that exaggeration… these aren’t trivialities to God. What to us are trivialities are crucial to Him; that’s the message of the prophets. The spirit of the prophets cried out in pain and anguish because of that kind of thing; and their spirit is to be ours. There’s something alive and passionate to the words of the prophets. They’re not just droning on. Although they largely wrote in poetry, let not this delude us from feeling the cutting edge of their passion. Their poetry wasn’t what Wordsworth thought poetry is- “emotion recollected in tranquillity”. The attack on complacency and passionlessness was full frontal: “Tremble, you women who are at ease [as you stroll the supermarkets of today], shudder, you complacent ones [as you hang out with your friends, lost in small talk]; strip and make yourselves bare” (Is. 32:11 RSV- the RSV seems to me to capture the passion of the prophetic words best of all the English translations).

Who we are now is who we will eternally be; hence the intense responsibility we should attach to all our actions, attitudes and deeds. One of the many dangers of the myth of an ‘immortal soul’ is the assumption that we can live in this life as men, and then go on to a totally different life on death. No. We are developing now towards the character and essential personality we will eternally be. C.S. Lewis, for all his other wisdom, wrote a book about death called “The Great Divorce”, his idea being that at death there is a great divorce between our present earthly life and our eternal, future life. He couldn’t have dreamed up any more dangerous a philosophy. Who we are now is who we will eternally be, and so we’d better live now towards tomorrow. There will be no great divorce between the Duncan of today and the eternal Duncan of the Kingdom age.

It was tragic for the prophets that the people were so indifferent. They portrayed the tragic, passionate love of God to His people, they sun of it, wrote of it, made poetry about it [for much of the prophetic writing is poetry]. And yet they passed this off as mere “allegory” in a mocking way (Ez. 20:49), Ezekiel was “to them like one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice… for they hear what you say, but they will not do it” (Ez. 33:32). They were like buskers singing songs in the subway, which we may listen to with half an ear, even admire them for a few moments, and then walk on in our busy lives. But the prophets were speaking forth the words of passionate love of God Almighty for His people… truly as Paul Simon put it, with an uncanny appropriacy to our train of thought, “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls”. They thought that “the Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill” (Zeph. 1:12); “the Lord does not see us” (Ez. 8:12; 9:9); “my way is hidden from the Lord” (Is. 40:27; 29:15). This of course is the attitude with which we daily live. The question is, will we perceive it as the prophets did?

The prophets were up against the same passionless spirit that pervades our societies today. The Jews came to discount the existence of God as a person, and condemned any form of anger or passion: “God loves him who never gets angry” (Pesahim 113b); “He who gets angry is regarded as if he would worship an idol” (Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Deoth, Vol. 2, 3). “Do not get angry and you will not sin” (Berachoth 29b). By contrast, consider Ps. 4:5 (quoted in Eph. 4:26 and exemplified in the anger of the Lord Jesus): “Be angry and sin not”. The Rabbinic commentaries changed this to “Tremble before God, and you will not sin”. Likewise “the Lord thy God [is] a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5) was changed in the Targums to “I am a God above jealousy” (Mechilta). The prophets speak so often of God’s wrath, love, hurt, pain, passion, anger, pathos… And they speak too of the terrible “repentings”, the kindling of contradictory impulses, which there apparently is in the mind of God. He is angry with sinners, but He will not be angry for ever because “from me proceeds the spirit, and I have made the breath of life” (Is. 57:16-19); His passionate, constant outpouring of energy into His creation means He simply won’t be angry with man for ever. But amongst the Jews there was a revulsion against the idea of God having passion, being angry, and His children sharing those same emotions. It’s the same basic approach as the obsession we have today with ‘nice speak’- don’t be too committed, go so far but no further, don’t appear extreme. Here the spirit of the prophets must be our urgent example- we are to have passion for the positions we adopt. And of course that involves us in being careful, Biblical and prayerful about what positions we adopt. It was the passion with which the Lord Jesus held to His positions that so endeared Him to the Father. Because He so loved righteousness and hated iniquity, the Father so highly exalted Him (Heb. 1:9). This division within the Lord between righteousness and sin is perhaps reflected in the records of the wilderness temptation- sin and righteousness were so clearly divided in His own mind that the record is written in the unusual way it is.

Perhaps more than anything, the prophetic descriptions of condemnation were aimed at attacking the indifference which pervaded Israel. The power of sexual imagery is used to the full in the description of rejected Israel as a whore all dressed up with no place to go, so utterly unwanted and despised (Jer. 4:30,31). This was and is the tragedy of Divine rejection of those who have so desperately sought the approval of this world, when all too late they find this world is over for good.