Recently I felt prompted to find a vision received more than a decade ago, in response to my previous post and an article I was reading here.
I saw a train (old steam powered locomotive, many carriages) racing out of a tunnel and across a wooden trestled bridge spanning a deep chasm, aiming for the tunnel on the far side. I saw the trestles begin to crumble underneath the train, and then the whole bridge collapsed, taking the train down into the depths.
I had an impression of the size, momentum, strength and ferocity of this train. And for all its strength, when faced with gravity, it was powerless to prevent its own destruction.
The train is the train of materialism, and as strong as it may appear, secure in its own power, yet will destruction be wrought upon it. The chasm is the valley of death, and all that trust to this train to get to the other side will perish.
The message, loud and clear, is to get off the train! It’s at its last stop before it runs the final mile. Do not be found on the train! Get OFF!
22nd February 2004
The urgency was clear to me then, and it is just the same now, albeit much closer to the collapse. As I said previously, we have been comfortable, secure in our riches.
Even if we don’t say it with our words, we have so often said it with our lives. In my bank balance do I trust, in these four walls do I find security, in my work is my peace. And perhaps we can add to that now – in government, in healthcare, in science is my Strong Tower, I shall not be shaken!
I look at the words I wrote in 2004 and think – how absurd, who would ever trust in materialism to cross the valley of death? And absurd it is. But so often do we ape the world and live as though this is somehow actually true. Look away, draw the blinds, and trust in the security of the carriage and the numbers that are taking the same journey as us. So many can’t be wrong, right?
In the light of our often catastrophic choice for vehicular safety, there is blessing contained within this current trouble.
Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, it might be good to get a little perspective. At the time of writing, approximately 250,000 people have died worldwide from this disease. While this is undoubtedly a tragedy, consider that in the same time period 340,000 have died from malaria, 580,000 have died from HIV/AIDS, 2,800,000 have died from cancer and a staggering 14,600,000 have died from abortion. These are also personal tragedies.
The point being is that death is always with us. Not one of us will escape it. And, whilst we all know this truth at some level, many of us have successfully hidden it under layers of material riches. It takes this kind of event for some to wake up to the reality of our mortality, and to begin to reach out to something beyond ourselves.
The truth is that, for many of us in the First World, we do not need God. In this, compared to many of our brothers and sisters in the Third World, we are impoverished. For they, subject to the daily realities of mortality in terms of starvation, a failing crop, the death of the breadwinner with no safety net, sickness with no affordable medical services, amongst other calamities – they are rich because in their real need of God, they cast their cares upon Him. And there is no safer place to be than in His care.
Perhaps to us at this time the message to the Church at Laodicea is apropos.
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Revelation 3 v 14-22
Perhaps mixed in the midst of this current trouble is blessing, for those with eyes to see and a willingness to repent – to turn and receive true riches from the One who still loves us.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Romans 8 v 18-25
Recently I wrote on the question that is asked at times like this – Why? With that in mind, I just wanted to add a brief additional thought to that pile.
There has been so much written on the subject of suffering, and I’m not going to rehash all that. Sometimes it seems like those discussions become recursive and end up eating themselves in frustration. I do not believe we are fully equipped to even ask the right questions, let alone to contain the answers. Yet.
But there will come a time.
In the Bible that time is equated with the coming of the ‘new heavens and earth’. And you will note, that is something that the whole creation strains towards, not just us erstwhile stewards.
Why is that? I cannot say, but this I will observe. What would we – knowing what we do about ourselves, wrapped in our own greed and fears – what would we have made of a creation that was as innocent and beautiful as the original Eden?
I submit we would have made of it a hell. And so perhaps the reason that the very creation itself was subjected to such futility was in order to protect and preserve it against and for the very stewards who were intended to care for and love it.
Subjected to futility….in order that it may partake in the same hope that we have…to be liberated and brought into the freedom and glory of the Children of God.
So, in the mix of beauty and pain that defines both creation and ourselves, there is Hope. This Hope has arms, legs, and a humanity that is transformed; the first fruit of all creation. He is the everything – the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. Upon Him do all things hold, and He Is Sufficient.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Genesis 11 v1-7
In the Babel story, God saw what humans were doing, building themselves a city, reaching towards the heavens, and seeking to make a name for themselves. And what, under other circumstances, might be understood to be a good endeavour – an expression of our creativity – was not, because of what lay at its heart.
I wonder how similar that is to our current days? A cogent case could be put together that we have reformed Babel over the past centuries; that we have built ourselves a new tower, not of bricks and mortar this time, but of multinational organisations, companies, economies, military, social and other forms of cooperation. Of an internet that spans the globe, connecting us all, and allowing us to communicate and trade instantaneously. Of instant translations that again allow us to understand each other. Why, with a casual click, we can access a webcam feed on the other side of the world! Everything is more immediate and interconnected, as a new Babel city is formed.
These are not inherently bad things, any more than cooperating in building a tower was inherently bad. But its purpose is defined in its heart. And I believe that once again it is about setting ourselves up as gods, reaching to heaven, and making a name for ourselves, without a creator to bother our sensibilities.
As before, this will not end well – the blood of innocent millions sacrificed in the name of ‘choice’ and the blatant greed and inequality of our world testifies against us. These amongst many other wicked things that our culture tolerates and promotes, towards which we are so often blind.
For sure, there are still good things in our world. But they are not the facets of a beast-state increasingly built with ourselves on the throne. Without God, our best efforts to build a civilisation will always descend into a blaring hell.
I was recently sent this link, talking about this very subject in 2001. So, these are not new thoughts. But, as we are shaken up, perhaps the essence of our modern Babel is becoming a little clearer. We have been ripe for a mercy judgment for many, many years, which as hard as it might be, is better than allowing the encroaching darkness free reign.
Here is the good news. Despite all this, and whatever is mankind’s heart to build, the Lord will always have the last word.
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 19 v21
We should be thankful for that grace and kindness!
In due course, the question is going to be asked – the one as old as humanity itself. Why? Why is this pandemic upon us? Why are so many people dying? Do we deserve this? Is God there, is He cruel, does He care? Or is it anathema to even think in that way?
There are so many questions wrapped up in that, and though we will certainly not get all the answers we are looking for – our understanding will always be incomplete – maybe a bit of perspective will help.
The first thing I’d like to tackle is the Christian apologist position. The one that says that God did not cause this, but does allow it. I understand the argument and perhaps it does hold some water. But here is the thing – it seeks to remove responsibility from God at the cost of bringing up the question of impotence and indifference. And God is neither! I think we need to be very careful in using this argument, lest we inadvertently dethrone Him, trying to intercede when He needs no such ‘help’.
The ancient Hebrews probably had a better grasp when they wrestled with the problem of pain in the book of Job without seeking to dethrone the one who is the Lord of all things.
So on to perhaps the key question – how can a loving and caring God allow, or cause, such a disaster to happen?
First thing – we perhaps need to be careful not to be making God in our own image, but allow Him to remake us in His image. What we understand by love, care and goodness is very limited and warped! Spend some time in the Bible, let it read us, and we will begin to understand our limitations in comprehension.
Second thing – let’s turn the whole question around. Why would God not send this as judgment? Do we really have a good sense of the society in which we live? Can we see, or are we yet blinded? Do we understand that evil, blood and darkness dwells in the heart of our enlightened, tolerant, inclusive and diverse modern Babel?
Is it perhaps not more of a miracle that His hand has stayed thus far, in mercy and forbearance? Would it maybe be love that causes Him to act now? Remember He is also a God of Justice. Which is not opposed to love, but rather a facet of it. And, do we not see yet that this may well be the beginning of a mercy judgment?
Another question that might be asked is, Why did God allow X to die, they didn’t deserve it? I know these are potentially very emotive questions, and forgive me for not being a pastor, but let’s turn it around again. Did X deserve life in the first place? Did they do something wonderful to be awarded life as a reward? No – and conversely neither does death have to be seen as an explicit or implicit judgment upon them.
Remember, all men are appointed to die, and then the judgment. The One who gives us life, can also take it. He doesn’t actually owe us anything, and it is a conceit to think otherwise.
Maybe enough from me for a bit. Time for a word from my sponsor. Jesus faced the same, implicitly stated question.
Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Luke 13 v4-5
Perhaps this would have been the perfect time for God Himself to answer the question that had been dogging humanity for millennia. But – He did not. Rather, He turned round the question and addressed it to us. Where do you stand? Will you stand against Me? Or repent and turn?
Let us be clear. He is not in the dock, we are. We do not have standing to judge, He does.
Sometimes we think we get to test Him, to see if he is worthy of our time, our respect, our belief. It is not that way. Rather, we are the ones who will come before Him, and who will be questioned.
And we need to submit to the reality that He chose not to answer the question. Perhaps because we are not equipped to understand the answer at the present time, perhaps for other reasons. But the question that does need answering is, in the midst of trouble, will you trust or walk away? Those are the paths open to us.
Let’s paraphrase Jesus’ response in the light of current events.
Or the thousands who died during the Covid-19 pandemic—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living throughout the world? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
These are not kind, pastoral words. But, they are words of life, and for those that respond they cut us deeply and bleed us into salvation.
In the midst of our current troubles, we have new opportunities to choose between life and death. As ever, our Father desires that we choose life, and indeed the good news is that some are, waking up and realising that we are not, after all, gods – masters of our own destiny.
But it is a tragedy that some are using this time to extend the tentacles of Moloch worship. I believe that one of the reasons the nations are under the judgment of God is because of our wanton sacrificing of millions of our children, the very least of these, to the flames.
New Zealand has used this time to ram through an extreme abortion law. Now, the UK has got into the act. As it is currently harder to sacrifice our sons and daughters at officially approved Moloch temples, we have been given dispensation to set up our own altars at home, in order to keep the flames of evil and death burning brightly.
As I’ve said before, if we choose death, death chooses us. And I am not so much meaning physical death here, though that too. But the spiritual death, the second death. The coarseness, the stripping away of humanity, and the descent to hell that comes with all such heinous acts.
I am desperately sad to see it – a shaking to life, leads some nations to turn their back, and embrace death more firmly – hiding from God in hatred of all that is good. Am I overstating things? Maybe…or maybe it is that we do not see the horror of what we, as nations, do and have allowed under the blood-stained banner of ‘choice’.
I can only think that more shaking is going to be necessary, and delivered. Because God is love, and He is sovereign. He made a Way when there was no way. He is able to overcome, and He will be glorified. In the end, every knee will bow – worshipers and rebels alike. Maranatha!
On from my previous post, I just wanted to add a little more in light of the updated guidance from the Church of England (which I know is a specific example, but also possibly indicative…)
In this they say that the:
Church of England strictly observes the new guidelines on staying at home and only making journeys that are absolutely necessary, such as shopping for essential items and to take daily exercise.
Our church buildings must now be closed not only for public worship, but for private prayer as well and this includes the priest or lay person offering prayer in church on their own.
This only reinforces my sense that the response is unbalanced, focused on the secular response and not properly considering things of eternal value. Daily exercise is essential, but a spiritual response can be put aside.
To be clear – I do not think church buildings are an essential part of the Church’s mission – we are the people of Christ, not the buildings! That said, they serve as a nexus, and to completely close them to any activity says something.
As I said to someone recently, my hearts’ cry, or perhaps the Lords’ cry within my heart, is that we mourn what is removed from us in this season. That we understand at a gut level the blessing and precious value of ekklesia worship and communion with Him! I am desperate to hear, for the Lord to hear, how much we value that and how much it costs us to lose that for a season.
That for me is what is missing in what I hear from the Church.
So, we have entered a period of shaking, one of perhaps many to come. Where what is normal is suspended, and our lives appear to be upended. Where fear leads to panic, and we find ourselves in uncharted territory.
It is not the possibility of death that leaves me fearful. But rather how we as a Church respond to the shaking that has been prophesied (and for the most part, roundly ignored) for many years. How are we doing? Are we fully clothed, sober, alert and ready for the times? Or we are we rudely awakened, panicked, throwing on clothes and rushing about trying to catch up? In which kingdom do we find ourselves, and in what or whom, is our trust?
Suddenly these don’t seem like idle concerns anymore.
I’ve read the church leaders responses to the pandemic, and while much in there is laudable – there often seems to be something, or someone, missing.
I completely understand the need to do everything possible for those who are physically vulnerable and the people who are treating them. The Church has a duty to care and to be responsible. And the call to us as a nation to a day of prayer may well prove to be a kairos moment.
But at the same time it seems as if we as a church have been too ready to accept the implicit judgment of the secular authorities – that we are not essential, that in times of emergency we can simply stand aside. This is the first ever closure of public worship! And, in listening to what is said, it can start to sound a bit like physical safety and security are the real things, and the coming together of the ekklesia to partake in communion with Christ, an optional extra.
Don’t misunderstand me – I am cognisant of and generally supportive towards the decisions that are being taken. But I can’t shake the feeling that we have surrendered something so precious without much of a second thought. As if Health and Safety comes before Salvation.
I do realise that these are really hard calls to make! The leaders having to make them have my sympathy.
But – in the times we are living – what about life?! Where were we in the deepest and darkest pandemics of our times? The orgy of pornography? The death of marriage? The murder of millions of innocents? What have we said in these times of such evil and barbaric destruction???! A few voices perhaps – muted and mostly ignored. We have already entered the gates of hell, and the Church turned over in our sleep and hit the snooze button again.
So now we have another wake-up call – a mercy judgment. Our lives have been changed, almost overnight. And perhaps the enforced dispersal into our local communities give us, as the Church, the opportunity to shine, to be that light set on a lampstand. Now is the time for the ‘ordinary’ believer to be salt and light, and to be a blessing in a world unhinged by anxiety and fear. To meet the challenge, and to overcome.
He is still Sovereign, and in the midst of judgment is entwined mercy. May we gather those threads and be the light of that mercy in the coming times.
Jesus is the Hope of the World, and Who we carry is more precious than anything else could ever possibly be. Live a life in the coming days in light of that truth!