Woe to Those at Ease in Zion! | The Voice 8.49: December 09, 2018

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Woe to Those at Ease in Zion!

Over and over again Amos has attempted to impress upon the Israelites of the northern Kingdom of Israel their dire condition if they do not repent of their sinfulness: YHWH was about to come in judgment, and the results would not be pretty (Amos 1:1-5:27). Israel was not listening; nevertheless, directed by God, Amos persisted.

Amos pronounced woe to those at ease in Zion and secure and comfortable in Samaria: they were trusting in their foreign policy measures, as if by such intrigues they could remain stable (Amos 6:1). They claimed a special status, yet Amos asked them to consider other neighboring kingdoms like Calneh (likely the same as Calno in Isaiah 10:9, referring to Kulniah in modern-day Syria), Hamath, and Gath of the Philistines, for in substance neither Israel nor Judah were really any better than they (Amos 6:2). At the time Amos spoke all of these places still stood; they all would be conquered by the Assyrians and be swept away. Israel’s pretenses to greatness would not save them.

Amos then indicted the Israelites (and likely the Judahites as well) for their ostentatious wealth and frivolity: they imagined the day of reckoning to be far off, and gained through violence (Amos 6:3). They wasted their time in leisure, living with fancy furniture, eating choice meats, making up songs and instruments, drinking wine, cleansing themselves with oil, and in all of this do not mourn the affliction which caused distress to the house of Joseph (Amos 6:4-6). The day would be coming in which their songs would end and they would be the first to be sent away into exile (Amos 6:7). Amos thus powerfully indicted the people for squandering great wealth and time in leisure without regard for their fellow Israelites and the distress which was about to overcome them all.

Amos’ judgments did not become more pleasant for Israel. YHWH has sworn by Himself (since there is none greater, Hebrews 6:13, and heightening the solemnity) how He hated the pride and strongholds of Jacob, and it would be delivered up (Amos 6:8). Amos then envisioned the result of the disaster: a household of ten men would have none left, and the relative who would come to bury the dead would ask if any were alive, and one in the innermost part of the house would answer no, and encourage silence, not speaking the name of YHWH for all the terror and dread which had come upon them (Amos 6:9-10). YHWH has commanded, and all the houses, great and small, would be razed (Amos 6:11).

Some translational confusion exists regarding Amos 6:12-14, whether certain words should be treated as place-names or translated into substantive words, but the point remains understandable regardless. Israel has presumed that it is able to maintain power by its own strength, or perhaps the Israelite army has proven successful and has gained victory in Lo-debar and Karnaim (Amos 6:13). To this end Amos asked if horses run on rocks, or if one plows rocks or the sea with oxen, which of course is ludicrous; and yet Israel has turned justice to gall and righteousness to wormwood, both forms of poison, and yet think their strength will save them (Amos 6:12). No: YHWH would lift up a nation (which would be Assyria), and Israel and Judah would be afflicted from its northern to southern extremes (Amos 6:14).

Amos’ chastisement of Israel and Judah in Amos 6:1-14 is consistent with the tenor of his message throughout and entirely appropriate to the situation in the latter days of Jeroboam (II) of Israel. At the time Israel was prosperous; at the time things seemed to be improving. At the time one could understand why Israel felt safe and secure. They ate, drank, sang, danced, and played, and gave no thought to the destruction coming upon them. It all seemed remote; prophets had been prophesying doom and gloom for years. Such all seemed plausible until it was no longer tenable, and devastation came far more suddenly than they could have imagined on their own. Within a generation the northern Kingdom of Israel would cease as a going concern; all the horrors Amos prophesied came to pass.

The Hebrews author spoke of Christians as having come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, in Christ (Hebrews 12:22). To this end Christians today do well to heed the warning of Amos and be aware of the danger of growing at ease in Zion. We are constantly barraged with marketing and messaging to encourage us to live enjoyable lives in leisure: our entertainment is full of those who maintain fancy furniture, eating choice foods, drinking, cavorting, and living in the moment, and give no thought to the prospect of an evil day to come, a day of reckoning and judgment. We are encouraged to consume greatly; do we give thought to the distress which may be coming upon the people of God or the land in which we live?

Jesus and Paul encouraged Christians to live in vigilance in Matthew 25:1-13, Romans 13:11-14, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 for good reason. Those going on to destruction distract themselves with intoxicating passions and desires of the flesh; those who pursue eternal life will remain sober, as in the day, always prepared for the return of the Lord Jesus.

Amos’ warnings remain prescient: the people of God are easily deceived into living for the moment and trusting in their own strength and ingenuity. They may have every reason to think that things will continue on as they always have. But then previously unimaginable disasters may come about, and nothing could ever be the same. Yet just as God warned Israel through Amos about what would come to pass, even though it was beyond their imagination, so in Christ we have been warned about what God will bring to pass in Jesus, even though it remains beyond the imagination of many. There is no time or room to be at ease in Zion; may we always be prepared for the return of the Lord Jesus, and share in the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Salvation in the Old Testament | The Voice 8.48: December 02, 2018

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Salvation in the Old Testament

God has worked diligently throughout time to save His people. As the people of God in Christ Jesus, we Christians tend to understand salvation and related ideas through the prism of what God has accomplished through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and eventual return. This is right, good, and appropriate for us today in the new covenant; nevertheless, we must be careful about projecting what has been made known in Jesus back onto the Old Testament, before the mystery of the Gospel was made known (cf. Ephesians 3:1-11). We do well to explore what salvation looked like in the Old Testament.

As Christians we tend to think of salvation first in terms of forgiveness of sins and (as a result) the opportunity to put our trust in the hope of the resurrection to come (John 3:16, Romans 8:1-25). For the Patriarchs and Israel, salvation was much more physical and concrete.

The author of Hebrews well encapsulated the nature of Israelite service before YHWH in Hebrews 9:1-8: in Exodus and Leviticus YHWH made provision for Israel to build a sanctuary for His presence and name, first a tent, and later a temple, with an altar, a priesthood, and commandments for the offering of animals and produce in order to atone for sin or guilt or make peace with God (Exodus 25:1-Leviticus 27:34). All Israel would assemble before YHWH at prescribed times and the requisite offerings were sacrificed; Israelites would bring their produce to thank God, atone for their sins, and make peace with Him.

In Christ we understand that our hope will not be complete in this life, but in the promise of the resurrection to come (Philippians 3:1-21). The Patriarchs and the Israelites only knew of the afterlife as Sheol, the underworld place of the dead, the habitation of the righteous and the wicked alike (Genesis 37:35, Numbers 16:33, Psalms 9:17, 88:3, 89:48, Ecclesiastes 9:10). Yes, some Israelites nourished hope of being redeemed from Sheol (Psalms 16:10, 49:15), and Daniel would be given the promise of the resurrection (Daniel 12:2), but how exactly this would work out for Israelites in the end was not yet fully made known to them. We can therefore understand why the hope of the Patriarchs and Israel tended to focus on this life.

Job provides a great example for our understanding. God had blessed Job: he had seven sons and three daughters and great wealth, and conscientiously offered sacrifices for himself and his children lest anyone happened to sin against God (Job 1:1-5). Then Job was considered as one forsaken by God when his children were killed, animals slaughtered, and struck with illness (Job 1:13-22, 2:7-9). Afterward, when God blessed him again, Job maintained twice as much wealth as he had before, and again seven sons and three daughters, very beautiful were born to him, and saw his great-great-grandchildren (Job 42:10-17). God redeemed Job by rescuing him from disease and destruction; Job’s blessings were his children and his wealth.

The list of blessings and curses in Leviticus 26:1-46 also prove instructive for us. If the Israelites would observe the Law YHWH gave them, He would bring rain at the right time to nourish a bountiful harvest, give them security and safety in their land, defeat their enemies before them, multiply their number, maintain His tabernacle in their midst, and be their God (Leviticus 26:1-12). Israel could have this confidence because He had saved them, defined in the exodus from Egypt: YHWH sent plagues upon the Egyptians and delivered Israel with a powerful hand from their midst (Leviticus 26:13; cf. Exodus 6:1-15:21). If the Israelites did not observe the Law YHWH gave them, He would send illness among them, cause their enemies to eat their harvest, defeat them before their enemies, send further plagues against the land, render them barren or strike their children dead, and ultimately cast them out of the land in exile (Leviticus 26:14-43). And so it would be throughout Israel’s history. In the good times, as in Solomon’s day, Israel and Judah dwelt in safety, every man under his vine and fig tree, with confidence in the future with children and great-grandchildren (1 Kings 11:25). In the bad times, as in the end of Israel and Judah, untold thousands died of plague, famine, and war, the cities and sanctuaries of Israel and Judah were put to the torch, and the people exiled out of the land (2 Kings 17:1-41, 25:1-21).

Salvation and redemption, therefore, looked very different in Israel than they would in Jesus. Sheol was a drab affair; one’s place in Israel among the people of God would be secured by having sons and grandsons continuing the family lineage on the plot of land given to their ancestors. Dying without children or losing one’s ancestral land were the ultimate disasters, leading to the extermination of the family lineage in Israel and their place among the people of God. If an Israelite lived to a good old age, enjoyed prosperity in the land, saw Israel’s enemies defeated and had sons and grandsons, he would have considered himself blessed, fortunate, and saved and delivered by YHWH from evil. If an Israelite died young, suffered persistent drought or pestilence, endured plagues, were oppressed by Israel’s enemies, and died childless, he would have considered himself cast off by YHWH and accursed.

In Jesus of Nazareth YHWH would provide the ultimate deliverance and salvation for His people Israel, if they chose to accept it. All of the plagues and difficulties Israel experienced ultimately derived from the work of the Evil One and the powers and principalities; Jesus defeated them all by suffering on the cross and dying for the sins of the world, and God raised Him from the dead (Romans 8:1-25, Colossians 2:11-15). The blood of bulls and goats could not truly atone for sin (Hebrews 10:4); Jesus’ blood would cleanse from sin all whom God would rescue in faith, from Adam until the last man on the final day (Hebrews 7:1-9:27). Through Jesus all can have direct access to God and participation in His household (Ephesians 2:18-22); God dwells among His people through His Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20). The fullness of the salvation in which Israel hoped can be found in the resurrection of life in Jesus: life in the presence of God for eternity in prosperity and health, without pain, suffering, or death (Romans 8:17-25, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

In truth, salvation throughout time has always involved maintaining a strong relationship with God and depending upon Him for deliverance and blessings. Nevertheless, the differences in understanding salvation between the Old and New Testaments remains profound, especially as they relate to this world. We do not rightly divide the Scriptures if we impose a new covenant understanding of salvation on the Old Testament; we also miss the mark if we look for confidence in our salvation in the new covenant according to the standards of salvation in the Old Testament. May we put our trust in God in Christ, obtain salvation and a restored relationship in Him, and put our hope in the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Power of Negative Influence | The Voice 8.47: November 25, 2018

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The Power of Negative Influence

Humans would like to believe they think independently and remain above the fray of fads and influences. In truth we all are profoundly shaped by our environment and the people around us. We may be in a position to influence others, but others also influence us, both perceptibly and imperceptibly.

From the beginning humans have followed after negative influences. Eve, in the Garden of Eden, was deceived by the serpent (Genesis 3:1-8, 1 Timothy 2:11-15). We do not say a person has been deceived into following good or positive things, and for good reason: deception is almost universally a negative thing.

Humanity has been beset by the deceptive nature of sin and darkness ever since (Romans 5:12-21, Hebrews 3:13). God manifest great concern for His people Israel lest they would be deceived into following other gods and to abandon their covenant and heritage in Him, even to the point of commanding summary execution of any Israelite, even a spouse or child, who would attempt to induce other Israelites into serving other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-11). This command extended to the destruction by sword and fire of any town in Israel which has gone after other gods (Deuteronomy 13:12-18)!

We may find such commandments hard to fathom; these are the commandments to which many people today point to indict God for being bloodthirsty and barbaric. And yet God is testifying to the power of influence to lead people astray. Israel was a chosen people, one who would be distinct on their belief not just in the One True God but to serve Him without any graven images (cf. Exodus 20:1-10). They were surrounded by, and lived in the midst of, people who served many different gods, and did so with graven images that they believed represented those gods. The power of their influence would be very great. How much stronger, then, would be the influence of one’s own wife, or children, if they encouraged service to other gods? Furthermore, many trends and major changes in any society begin when a few people begin a different practice, encourage others to do likewise, and suffer little in terms of consequences.

Israel did not prove obedient to God’s commands in Deuteronomy 13:1-18. Within a few generations of Moses saying these words, Israelites would prove indignant with Gideon when he destroyed an altar for Baal and an Asherah, and desire to kill him for it (Judges 6:28-31), the inverse of God’s commandment! If anything, they all should be executed for serving other gods. And so it goes with negative influences: it proves easier to give up one’s distinctiveness in God and follow the ways of the nations than it is to reflect God’s love, righteousness, and truth among the nations.

We are under a new covenant enacted under better promises with a better witness (Hebrews 8:6). We are not to overcome evil with evil (Romans 12:21), and strive to do good to all men, even those who are our enemies (Galatians 6:10, Luke 6:32-35). If there are Christians in our midst who go after the world and no longer serve God, we are to disassociate from them, but by no means kill them (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Nevertheless, God is still concerned about the power of negative influence, manifest in 1 Corinthians 15:33:

Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals.

When encouraging teenagers to uphold the good and right way we often warn about the dangers of “peer pressure.” We know that many young men and women fall prey to the temptation of falling into the wrong crowd, changing their behaviors, and participate in all kinds of immorality and ungodliness which would have been unimaginable beforehand. Yet, as we can learn from Genesis 3:1-8 and Deuteronomy 13:1-18, we never grow out of the dangers of peer pressure. We are constantly under the pressure to conform to this world and its ways and beset with temptations to sin and abandon our heritage in Jesus (Romans 12:1, Hebrews 12:1-2). Furthermore, negative influence does not come only from those “out there”: we may have beloved family members or fellow Christians who might tempt us away from what is good, right, and holy in the Lord Jesus. We can never equivocate God’s will, even if our wives or our children would try to get us to do so. Such is why Paul warned the Corinthian and Galatian Christians how a little leaven leavens the whole lump: accepting or justifying people in the midst of the people of God who persistently teach false doctrine or who sin without repentance will allow the influence of false doctrine and immorality to spread to others, and therefore those involved must be disciplined by disassociation (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Galatians 5:7-9).

We must be on guard for the temptation to worship “other gods” whom we have not known. We must recognize that we, like Israel before us, are a chosen people, and peculiar (1 Peter 2:9). While we are no longer in the midst of people who go about and serve gods represented by graven images, we live in no less of an idolatrous society. People all around us worship money, celebrity, America, individualism, naturalism, sports, sex, comfort, happiness, and all sorts of similar idols. People, perhaps even within our own family, even those who might be supposed children of God, may not understand our devotion to the LORD of Hosts and why we strive to serve Him in all matters (Matthew 6:33, Colossians 3:17). Just like Israel of old, when God’s people who believed in YHWH also served other gods because others around them were doing so, so many Christians today try to serve both God and these other idols, and they fail miserably (Matthew 6:24). It is always easier to justify their divided loyalties when others are doing the same.

We should not automatically ascribe evil motives to such people, but it is part of the conscious and unconscious aspects of the power of negative influence. Focusing on the will of God as the greatest priority in life requires constant diligence, and those who would do so must be continually on guard against the powers of negative influence from the “nations among us” and even unfortunately our own brethren at times (2 Timothy 2:15).

We should never discount the power of negative influence. None of us prove as strong and impregnable against the influences of the world and its people as we imagine ourselves to be. We often prove doubly deceived by the Evil One: deceived into following worldly influences while deceived into thinking we have risen above those influences! God knows this and has established commandments and warnings in both the old and new covenants so that we would be on guard against negative influences and to take appropriate measures in Christ to stand against them. We do well to consider who among us might tempt us to serve “other gods whom we do not know,” those in the world and perhaps even some among our own family and friends. We must also be on guard lest the people of God are brought down because some “worthless fellows” have brought in “other gods.”

We never outgrow the danger of negative influence. May we seek after God in Christ, serving Him wholeheartedly, and on guard against the temptations to conform to the ways of the Evil One!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and Hope | The Voice 8.46: November 18, 2018

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The Christian and Hope

In the Greek author Hesiod’s Works and Days we learn of the myth of Pandora, who was a beautiful woman given a container by the gods which she was told to never open. At some point, as could be expected, she opened the container, and out came all sorts of evils: sickness, pain, suffering, death, etc. According to the legend, she closed the container leaving only one thing in it: hope, which would console humanity despite all the evils which were released into the world.

We find the story of Pandora and her box poignant because of the sustaining power of hope. As Alexander Pope memorably said, “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Almost everyone nourishes and sustains hope so they can persevere and survive the trials of life, whether poor or rich, “first world” or “third world,” in prosperity or adversity. But in what, exactly, do we place our hopes and dreams?

The world attempts to put forth a lot of attractive options in which to hope. Many find money and stuff attractive: they hope their investments, financial resources, and things will provide them with satisfaction in life now and later. Some put their hope in physical appearances and the satisfaction of bodily desires. Others invest all their hope in their children and grandchildren. Many, whether they want to admit it or not, hope in their future abilities, and are confident in their ability to make things better. Meanwhile, marketers and salesmen work diligently to try to get us to put our hope in their products. Politicians promise the sun and moon, and far too many are induced to put their hope in political endeavors.

We could hope in such things, but we would always find them brought low, frustrated, or perhaps even worse, ultimately unsatisfying. Money often fails, and cannot bring happiness even if we maintain it. The body grows old and does not perform as it once did. Children and grandchildren grow up and often go their own way. At some point almost all of us reach the limit of our shrewdness and ability to make things better, and suddenly today is better than tomorrow. No product really satisfies, nor does any company really want you to be satisfied, or else you would not need to buy their products anymore. Politics devolves into an endless fount of hopelessness: most of the time politicians do not change much of value, and even those things which do change are often subject to revision.

The hope of Christians is firmly grounded in God for the resurrection of the dead. Christians are saved in hope: we recognize that there is more to living than this life, and therefore we cannot hope in anything which is of this life only, but hope in the life to come (Romans 8:18-25). Paul fixed his hope on the resurrection from the dead, willing to consider everything else in life as garbage if he could only attain to it (Philippians 3:7-11).

For Paul, the hope God extended to His people involved the resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:6, 24:15). For many Christians today, conditioned to see their hope from God as something in heaven, emphasis on the resurrection may seem strange. Why would Paul consider the hope of resurrection such a big deal?

Paul recognized the problem of life clearly: God made a good creation, but it has been corrupted by sin and death (Romans 5:12-21, 8:18-25). On account of sin and death, any hope in this life as currently established is futile: everyone will die, and everything on earth is subject to corruption and decay. Since the problem is sin and death, the solution would involve the elimination of sin and death, and this is what God has accomplished through Jesus’ death and resurrection: Jesus overcame sin by dying on the cross, and He overcame death in His resurrection (Romans 8:1-7, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 56-57, 2 Corinthians 5:21). In the resurrection God would redeem the body (Romans 8:23). One could imagine a view in which the creation itself was the problem, and thus would need to be overcome, but that is not the picture Paul provides. It is more akin to the picture suggested by Plato and embraced by the Gnostics, who would deny the resurrection of the body and desired to escape the material world and obtain spiritual bliss. The Gnostics were universally condemned as heretics by early Christians, and for good reason (2 John 1:6-9). We do better to understand the problem, and therefore the solution, as Paul did, and not as Plato and his followers (cf. Colossians 2:8-9).

Pandora’s story resonates because we have all suffered the evils which were represented in her box. We are tempted to find hope and refuge from these evils in things in this world. Money, physical appearance, children, grandchildren, our own lives, products, and all other things are gifts God has given us. If we turn our hope away from the hope of resurrection in God in Christ, we are not trusting in God anymore, but looking to satisfy hope in these things which God has given. God has given many good things; yet they are not absolute. They cannot endure the confidence of our hope. They inevitably disappoint. And we are ultimately left discouraged.

Hope in God in the resurrection will fully satisfy, for on the great and glorious day of resurrection, all that we truly need and truly desire will be satisfied. There will be no more pain; suffering will cease. God will wipe away every tear from the eye. Distress, devastation, destruction, and all the other horrors and evils which have afflicted us will be a memory. Instead we will have eternal life with God in the resurrection body, one with God in Christ, raised like Him, dwelling with Him, enjoying eternal life in Him (1 Corinthians 15:50-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

On that day, in the consummation of all things, hope will have accomplished its purpose. We will no longer have need for hope, for our hope will be fully realized, and who hopes for what one can already see (Romans 8:24-25)? Hope may spring eternal in the breast of mankind, yet hope can only find its full satisfaction in God in the resurrection of the dead. May we put our trust in God in Christ and share in the resurrection of life for eternity!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Fallen Virgin Israel | The Voice 8.45: November 11, 2018

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Fallen Virgin Israel

God commissioned Amos to pronounce words of indictment and judgment against the northern Kingdom of Israel for all the transgressions of idolatry and injustice perpetrated in the land, warning them to repent or experience the mighty day of YHWH at the hands of the Assyrians (Amos 1:1-4:13). Amos persisted with this message in Amos 5:1-27.

Amos took up a lamentation over Israel: virgin Israel has fallen and will not rise again (Amos 5:1-2). Amos then envisioned a horrific future for Israel: reverse decimation, with only a tenth of the population remaining (Amos 5:3). We cannot begin to imagine that kind of death and destruction!

Such a terrible fate for Israel was not inevitable: they could seek YHWH and live, but they could not do so through visiting Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba (Amos 5:4-5). These were places where altars had been built and idols fashioned in the name of YHWH, and they represent the religious centers for Israel at the time (1 Kings 12:25-33, Hosea 4:15, Amos 4:4). These places would be devastated; YHWH was not pleased with the offerings and religious service made in them. YHWH would not be found in them; if they did not seek Him, He would cause them to be devoured (Amos 5:6).

Amos indicted the Israelites for their oppression: they turned justice into wormwood, a kind of poison, and brought righteousness down to earth (and this is not a good thing; it has been degraded; Amos 5:7). They ought to seek YHWH who made the stars in the sky and caused day and night to come in their cycles, and who would bring down the mighty suddenly, without notice (Amos 5:8-9).

Amos set forth the ground of YHWH’s judgment: the Israelites despised those who would speak righteousness, have trampled the poor, and extracted resources from others unjustly (Amos 5:10-11). From their profit they have built nice houses, yet they would not live in them; they planted exquisite vineyards, yet they would not enjoy them (Amos 5:11). Israel’s sins were abundant in oppressing the poor man; wise and discerning people knew it was a time to remain quiet, for it was an evil time (Amos 5:12-13). Despite all of this, if Israel would turn and seek God, hate evil, love good, and do what is right, YHWH would preserve the remnant of Israel (Amos 5:14-15). And yet, sadly, it would not be: great mourning and lamentation would be heard in the land after YHWH had passed through it (Amos 5:16-17).

Some in Israel apparently sought the Day of YHWH, thinking of it as some great thing for them; Amos worked diligently to disabuse Israel of the notion: the Day of YHWH is darkness and not light (Amos 5:18). The Day of YHWH is compared to a man fleeing from a lion but coming upon a bear, fleeing into his house only to be bit by a snake: it is a day of inescapable tragedy; darkness, not light (Amos 5:19-20). You do not want to have to endure a day of YHWH; it is unspeakably horrific.

Amos would again stun his audience: YHWH hated their feasts and assemblies; He would not accept their sacrifices and offerings; He did not want to hear the sounds of their instruments anymore (Amos 5:21-23). Amos was not condemning the idea of feasts, assemblies, and instruments in the service in the Temple; the problem was the people’s hypocritical service, willing to go through religious rituals but not embodying YHWH’s primary purposes in the Law. For this reason Amos then encouraged Israel to have justice roll down as water and righteousness like a mighty stream (Amos 5:24): a justly famous verse, in context emphasizing YHWH’s concern for living justly and righteously. Amos then asked if Israel brought offerings during their days in the Wilderness (Amos 5:25). Israel would take their statues of the idols they had made, Sikkuth and Kiyyun, and God would exile them beyond Damascus (Amos 5:26-27). Amos’ question in Amos 5:25 was rhetorical, seeming to be no, and yet there are examples of offerings given in Leviticus and Numbers. Perhaps the offerings made were daily offerings made by Levites but not brought by the people, which is Amos’ point. Disputes exist regarding Amos 5:26, since Sikkuth and Kiyyun are not otherwise attested: regardless, Amos condemned the idolatry of the people and pronounced YHWH’s condemnation of them and exile to Assyria.

By this point many might think Amos is a broken record, saying the same thing in various ways. Amos’ message remains consistent throughout; such is the nature of the work of the prophets. Yet Amos’ messages in Amos 5:1-27 have resonated from then until now. People, now as then, look for what seems to be the easiest way to placate the gnawing guilt they feel regarding their spiritual lives. It is easier to keep one’s vision down and go through rote exercises and rituals than it is to look up and pursue the God of righteousness and justice. We understand the idea of an evil time in which it seems better to stay quiet than to raise up one’s voice and be denounced and despised. Many have been greatly inspired by the call to have justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream, but who proves as willing to leave their comfort zone to practice such pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27)?

Israel thought all was well; in truth, it was an evil time. Judgment was coming, and virgin Israel would fall, be devastated, and would never rise again. God sees iniquity, immorality, injustice, and oppression. He will judge, and it will not be pleasant. The Day of YHWH will come against all unrighteousness, and God’s wrath will be satisfied. This is not a fate or a day anyone should want to see. May we all repent, seek God, uphold justice and righteousness, and obtain the resurrection in Christ Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Finding True Security | The Voice 8.44: November 04, 2018

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Finding True Security

The Western world is saturated in anxiety. Everyone seems to be afraid of something; people keep speaking past each other, fearing what they fear while not perceiving what those opposed to them fear. Politicians work to stoke divisions and pander to the worst of human nature in fearmongering. “Mass shooting events” seem to be the new normal: barely a week goes by without a new mass shooting event somewhere in the country, in schools, religious centers, entertainment venues, and many other places. People look warily at those whom they perceive to be a threat to their security or standing, and prove receptive to and often affirm draconian measures taken against such people. A lot of people seem to live perpetually on “high alert.”

In such an environment people naturally look for some kind of comfort and security: a place in which they can feel safe. Safety in security is the goal of many, and some go to great expense to build up armaments, security staff, and the like in order to assure their safety and the safety of those around them. Some wish for restrictions on guns or other weaponry. People vote and put confidence in leaders who they believe make them feel safer: many have come to believe the opposing political party is the source of much of their anxiety and insecurity, and devote their efforts to elect people in their preferred party, presuming greater comfort and security if “their people” are in power.

And yet true security cannot be found in any of these things. Security staffs can be breached; armaments can be bested; furthermore, neither can protect against the ravages of illness, old age, and death. Government officials can do only so much to ensure safety and security, and whatever measures they take will come at the expense of the liberty and freedom of at least some segment of the population. Politicians do not deliver on all of their promises; whatever feeling of comfort and security is felt by their voters is more like a placebo than anything resembling actual security.

The unpleasant fact of the matter is that there is no true security or comfort on earth. We may find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time; we may suffer injury, illness, and/or death, and there would be little to nothing which we could do about it. Tragedies do not just happen to other people; at some point, the “other person” might well be you or me! If anything, the infrequency of suffering tragedy directly is one of the great “miracles” of life in the modern Western world. The levels of safety and comfort we seek represent luxuries our forefathers, and many less fortunate people around the world to this day, could not and cannot afford.

Whether we wish to admit it or not, we are not guaranteed another breath; we cannot have complete assurance or confidence that we will live to see tomorrow, let alone anything beyond, as James reminds us in James 4:14:

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. What is your life? For ye are a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

We are a vapor; our lives will pass on. True security will not come from the earth or from anything of our own design. The people of God have known for generations that true security can only come from God our Creator, the One who was, is, and is to come, who has promised to be our refuge and strength (cf. Psalm 46:1, Revelation 4:8). The power of sin enslaves mankind; death, the consequence of sin, is greatly feared, and people will stop at nothing to avoid it (Romans 5:12-21). God defeated sin and death through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and all who would put their trust in Jesus and His way receive confidence in hope of the same salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). In Christ there is peace; in God we can find comfort; the Holy Spirit is our assurance of salvation (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, 5:5, Philippians 4:7).

We therefore must look to God our Creator for comfort and security, and must cast our anxieties upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). True security does not look like anything we would have imagined. Our God is good, holy, just, righteous, kind, and merciful, but He not safe: He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Through Him we learn just how deeply we have been deceived by the Evil One to do his will: our fellow people are not our enemy, but have been deceived along with us (Ephesians 2:1-3, 6:12, Titus 3:3). Everything we have feared about our fellow man was misguided; we ought not fear what man can do to us, for it cannot be compared to what God will do for those who do not know Him or obey the Gospel of His Son (Matthew 10:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). In Christ we can see the work of the Evil One and the powers and principalities in the governments and systems of the world, obtaining and maintaining power, wealth, and influence by instigating people into anxiety, fear, and insecurity, and setting them against one another (Matthew 4:8-9, Ephesians 6:12, Revelation 13:1-18). In Christ victory over anxiety, fear, and insecurity does not come from bigger walls, better weaponry, terrorism, or anything of the sort; Jesus obtained victory over sin and death through serving humanity in love and humility, suffering depredation and death, and rising in glory in the resurrection, and Christians obtain the same victory according to the same path (Philippians 2:5-11).

It is natural to seek after comfort and security. Yet what is natural often comes into conflict with God’s purposes for mankind in Jesus. If our comfort and security is obtained through the suffering and deprivation of others, the cost is not worth the “benefit.” If in our quest to relieve ourselves of our anxieties and fears we close ourselves off to other people, find reasons to demonize and dehumanize them, and do not seek their good and their salvation, we prove we are of the Evil One and not of Christ (Luke 6:27-36). To follow Christ demands that we become as vulnerable, as able to be wounded by others, as Christ was for us: it will hurt; it will lead to persecution; it may lead to death (1 Peter 2:18-25, 4:12-19). We must always remember that true security cannot be found in this world: we are weak, we are easily deceived, and we cannot escape every danger. Instead, we must live boldly in faith, loving one another and our fellow man, showing mercy in humility, suffering whatever may befall us, confident not in ourselves but in Jesus the Christ for full salvation. May we place our trust in God in Christ, and make Him our refuge, and put away the idolatry of comfort, safety, and security in this world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Prosperity Myth | The Voice 8.43: October 28, 2018

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The Prosperity Myth

Charge them that are rich in this present world, that they be not highminded, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the life which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

The story of America has always involved a myth about prosperity.

Europeans “discovered” America in the pursuit of gaining wealth by opening a new route to the Orient. Many sought the legendary El Dorado, searching for gold. For hundreds of years people have crossed oceans seeking to make their fortunes in America, having heard all sorts of fantastic stories about those who went from rags to riches and the endless bounty of the New World. And now we ourselves fall prey to the same temptation to put our confidence in maintaining and upholding American prosperity.

And yet, for most, American prosperity has been a mirage. El Dorado was nowhere to be found. The hopes of many who came to America were dashed; prosperity did not come as easily as the boosters and the marketers had claimed. Guarantees about economic growth in the market are as quickly quashed as they are raised. We keep seeking financial prosperity and security; we may be doing sufficiently well to survive, but it never seems to be enough, and there seems to be plenty of reason for economic anxiety.

In truth, there is no “sure thing” in matters relating to money. Wealth has always been for a few, and even then, extremely uncertain. We may be regaled with “rags to riches” stories; there are equally as many riches to rags stories, but who has the stomach to hear them? Investments that took years to build up can vanish in a matter of weeks. Cherished plans for the future are dashed quickly when the money dries up. Steady incomes are reduced, yet expenses keep adding up.

We may feel the pain at many points. That pain is designed to get us to reconsider our priorities. And yet, far too many people will still put their trust in money, or the government, or in the things that they can see and touch. They may have received setbacks, but now they just want to recoup their losses, or try harder for next time. Prosperity is just around the corner, we may think. The problem is that prosperity is always just around the corner; always a bit out of reach.

As the Preacher says, all of this is vanity (Ecclesiastes 5:10-15). We came into this world with nothing, and we will take nothing from it (Job 1:21, 1 Timothy 6:7). All physical matter will one day be destroyed (2 Peter 3:9-12): when that day comes, what will be left to show for all the energy expended to accumulate wealth? What will people have left to show for their lives and their efforts?

As it is written,

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

We should be working to gain spiritual wealth, not necessarily physical wealth. It is not as if people cannot become rich; many do. The problem is that wealth is ultimately unreliable. It can be lost or stolen; it can corrupt and corrode the one who holds onto them. Instead, Jesus invites people to lay up “treasures in heaven”: ironic, of course, since laying up treasures in heaven is all about divesting oneself of the treasure of earth to benefit others. Spiritual wealth is not about how much is in your bank account, but whether you gave to those who were in need from your bank account. Spiritual wealth has little to do with your investments in companies and materials, but has everything to do with your investment in people and relationships. On the final day, those who trusted in the uncertainty of riches will weep when all they had and trusted perished (James 5:1-8). On the final day, those who trusted in God and the certainty of His riches of love, mercy, and compassion will rejoice with the Father and the Son and see the full impact of their love and devotion to others.

Many people today cry out and wonder why they have not prospered as they imagined they would. Many have suffered because of the financial decisions of others; some have suffered because of their own arrogance and misguided confidence in their ability to play the field or manage the market. And yet, in the end, we have not truly lost anything that was originally ours, since everything we enjoy are blessings from God, and we were not born with them, and we cannot take them with us after we die. Whether this was from God or not, we ought to learn and teach spiritual lessons from it. There is a whole lot more to life than money. Real security can never be found in steady paychecks or investments. Making money is not to be man’s ultimate pursuit (1 Timothy 6:7-10). We should always count the human cost to whatever we say or do. And, in the end, things are not that important. God, His love for man, and His expectations for man, are.

“For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16:26).

Jesus’ question is not merely academic. Jesus asks regarding the ultimate outcome of the philosophy of the world: so what if you could even gain everything on the earth? Is it still worth your life? Everyone knows what the answer to the question when they are confronted with the reality, yet by their actions and thoughts they betray their devotion to the myth of prosperity and materialism. They keep working for that which does not satisfy, and devote themselves to things that ultimately cannot profit.

Let us not be seduced by these myths, and let us do all we can to show the way of Christ, where people are more important than things, love greater than money, and faith more than the illusion of stability. Let us place our trust in the only secure thing in life: God and His love as expressed through Jesus His Son. Let us hold fast to the reality of prosperity: the riches of God’s grace that He freely pours out on those who believe in His Son (Ephesians 1:7-9). Let us be rich toward God, even if that means we are poor on earth!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and Happiness | The Voice 8.42: October 21, 2018

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The Voice

The Christian and Happiness

In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson declared that all men are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness; modern Americans seem to believe that happiness is their birthright.

The modern “gospel of happiness” can be summarized succinctly: do whatever makes you happy, and divest yourself of whatever makes you unhappy. Life is too short to be unhappy; you only live once. Are you unfulfilled and unhappy in your job or career? Then find a new one. Are your friends or family a drag? Have nothing to do with them, and get new friends. Are you unhappy in your marriage? Then end it and start afresh. Morality and virtue seem old-fashioned and quaint; now it is all about what feels good and what we think makes us happy.

Meanwhile, an army of marketers and salesmen work diligently to appeal to our desire for happiness. They do so not to really help us find happiness, but to associate the products they wish to sell with our pursuit of happiness. They do not even really want us to find real happiness; that would probably hurt the bottom line. Instead, it is all about feeling lack and insufficiency: if only we had this or that product, then our lives would be happier. We might get a good feeling buying the product, but afterwards it will not meet our desires for it. Far too many of us seek happiness in buying and getting things; these marketers and salesmen are able to make a good living, but in the end we find ourselves less happy than before!

For all the talk about finding happiness, pursuing happiness, and the pretense of happiness we find all around us, many Americans are actually quite unhappy and anxious. In true American fashion, this discontent has opened a large market for self-help gurus to proclaim the various ways in which to find true happiness. Some suggest it comes from holistic living; others have encouraged meditation, mindfulness, and other forms of asceticism; almost all suggest, in some way or another, that happiness can be achieved if we just work a little harder or think about it the right way. These methods provide some benefit for many people; and yet, for many others, it only deepens the difficulty, for now they are not only unhappy, but also are given reason to blame themselves for it.

And yet, in all of this, a fundamental question is never really addressed: what is happiness? Most people understand happiness in terms of good feelings and a sense of personal satisfaction. If happiness involves good feelings and personal satisfaction, by definition, happiness will be quite subjective: a “moving target,” if you will. Furthermore, how do we quantify happiness? How can two people be in relatively similar circumstances in life and yet diverge greatly in their levels of happiness? For that matter, how come many of the people who seem the happiest often have less in terms of material wealth or benefits than those who seem unhappy?

Let none be deceived: happiness is a good thing. It is a positive emotion, something which our Creator has made and put within the heart of man to enjoy. It is not automatically wrong to want to be happy. Nevertheless, for the Christian, a belief in the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness is an endeavor in missing the point at best and an invitation to idolatry at worst.

God has never promised the Christian that he or she would be happy on the earth. For that matter God has never commanded or expected Christians to put their efforts into pursuing happiness on the earth. God instead commends joy and contentment for the Christian (Philippians 4:4, 1 Timothy 6:6).

Many might wish to suggest that happiness and joy are synonymous. It is possible for a person to be happy and joyful; those who are happy likely have joy; and yet the goal of the Christian life is to maintain joy even if one feels unhappy. Happiness is more of an emotion or a feeling; joy is a mental perspective and attitude. Paul encouraged the Philippian Christians to rejoice in the Lord despite being imprisoned and in otherwise unpleasant circumstances; James the Lord’s brother encouraged Christians to consider it all joy when they underwent suffering and trial (James 1:2)! Life is full of disappointments, distress, failure, pain, and suffering; we cannot expect to always feel happy about everything. Yet no matter what we endure in our present circumstances we can choose to keep our minds, hearts, and souls focused on the Christ, Crucified then Risen in glory and find peace.

A lot of unhappiness stems from a feeling of scarcity: we do not feel like we have enough, we do not look good enough, we are not enough, etc. Ironically, no matter how much we have, we can always think that we lack some other thing. Yet we can also recognize that all we have comes from God as gifts from Him, entirely undeserved, and be thankful towards God for His gifts, and appreciate them (Romans 5:6-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:18): this is contentment. Contentment focuses on what we have, not what we do not have; contentment focuses on what we are thanks to what God has done for us in Christ, not what we are not (Matthew 6:19-34). When we are content, what we have in God in Christ is always enough; when we yearn for anything more, we will be plagued with discontent, anxiety, distress, and unhappiness.

In the beatitudes Jesus spoke of the poor, those who mourn, the meek, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and those persecuted for Jesus’ and righteousness’ sake as blessed: the Greek word makarios means one who is fortunate or even happy (Matthew 5:3-12, Luke 6:20-23). We generally do not associate happiness with poverty, mourning, or persecution; people in the first century did not either! Jesus wished to challenge our perspective on how we live: it is not as if there is inherent happiness in poverty, mourning, or persecution, but those who undergo such things have better things to which they can look forward in life now and/or in the resurrection. Those who are rich, laughing, or accepted, however, can only look forward to future forms of despair. Happiness, after all, is fleeting; it may be here one moment, but it may be gone the next, whether our circumstances change or not.

The “gospel of happiness” is a lie; it cannot save. Life is not about whatever makes us happy; for the Christian, life is about what glorifies God in Christ, which includes the path of suffering. We ought to be content with what God has given us; we can rejoice in whatever circumstance we find ourselves because we have the victory in Jesus. Be not deceived: one can change jobs, spouses, families, friends, and all kinds of other things, but never find happiness, for happiness is not found in the abundance of possessions, and people always frustrate and disappoint. True contentment and joy is found in glorifying God in Christ through what we own and with whom we relate in life. In the resurrection of life there will be no more suffering, pain, or distress, but unbroken fellowship with God, basking in His light. May we trust in God in Christ to obtain true peace, joy, and contentment, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Prepare to Meet Your God, Israel! | The Voice 8.41: October 14, 2018

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Prepare to Meet Your God, Israel!

Amos was given an uncomfortable word to prophesy to the northern Kingdom of Israel: the nations would come under judgment, yet so too would Israel and Judah; YHWH was making known through His prophets what He would do to Israel, it would be a spectacle before many neighboring nations, and barely a remnant would remain (Amos 1:1-3:15). Amos would continue with three further prophetic indictments of Israel (Amos 4:1-13).

Amos chastised the women of Samaria of means as “cows of Bashan”: Bashan was well-known for its productive pasturage, and so the reference speaks to the wealth and prosperity, and perhaps a swipe at the voluptuousness, of the wives of prominent Samarians (Amos 4:1; cf. Deuteronomy 32:14, Psalm 22:12, Ezekiel 39:18). We can be assured that the women would not have been amused by the comparison. Amos’ portrayal of the women of Samaria did not make them look attractive: he indicted them for the oppression and crushing of the poor and needy since they made constant demands for resources from their husbands (Amos 4:1). On account of this YHWH has sworn on His holiness that all of them would be carried out of Samaria by hooks: they would become slaves and carried away into exile (Amos 4:2-3). Amos may not have ingratiated himself with the women of Samaria by having said such things; yet we should not imagine that the Samarian women were themselves actively oppressing the poor. Their husbands, the lords, were the ones doing the oppressing, but it was their lifestyle which was enriched in the process. Thus the women of Samaria would be held accountable for how their husbands had obtained the wealth which they used for their benefit. The Israelites could not take hold of the dishonest gain of others and imagine they would escape condemnation!

Amos then turned his sights onto the Israelite temples at Bethel and “Gilgal” (perhaps a reference to Dan, or perhaps still a place of sacrifice; Joshua 4:19-20, 1 Samuel 10:8, 14-15), and sarcastically or mockingly invited people to come there and transgress through the regular offerings and sacrifices which they loved to offer there (Amos 4:4-5). Amos would later speak condemnation on these places (Amos 5:5); he was likely offering an implicit challenge to the legitimacy of Israelite service in these places since they had not been authorized by God to do so (cf. 1 Kings 12:25-13:10). Yet he also critiqued Israel’s hypocrisy: it was not as if Israel denied YHWH’s existence, or did not participate in religious rituals, or anything of that sort. Israel remained firmly committed to offering sacrifices and following the particulars of religious services, but did not practice the commandments of the Law among one another. They loved sacrificing animals far more than sacrificing for the needs of others; they loved giving their tithes at the appropriate time far more than giving relief to the needy and oppressed among them. We are to imagine that the “cows of Bashan” and their husbands, among others, would come and offer sacrifice and give tithes and presume all was well between them and God. Such was not the case. Unauthorized religious practices, or even legitimate religious practices done in unauthorized ways, would not justify Israel, nor could religious fastidiousness absolve Israelites from their obligations toward their fellow man.

Amos proceeded to set forth all the “warning signs” YHWH had sent to Israel. YHWH had brought them “cleanness of teeth” in their cities: the goal was not a great dental hygiene program, but a way of expressing famine and a lack of food (Amos 4:6). YHWH kept the rains from them, or brought only intermittent, inconsistent rain, leading to drought and famine (Amos 4:7-8). YHWH sent pestilence on the land, ruining crops with blight and mildew and trees with locusts and worms (Amos 4:9). YHWH cast upon Israel plagues of Egypt and defeat from their enemies, the loss of cities as with Sodom and Gomorrah (Amos 4:10-11). Despite all these warnings, Israel did not return to YHWH. Therefore, all that was left was a ringing cry and warning: prepare to meet your God, O Israel (Amos 4:12)! As we can tell from the context, YHWH was not coming for some coffee or a nice chat; Amos was again warning Israel of imminent apocalyptic-level judgment which would come at the hands of Assyria and lead to the elimination of the northern Kingdom of Israel as a going concern, the exile of its people, and the effectual end of ten of the tribes of Israel. All this was certain because it was declared by YHWH, He who created the mountains, the wind, the morning dawn, and who makes people know what they think and who treads upon the earth (Amos 4:13).

Amos provided powerful testimony regarding God’s interactions with Israel in ways Israel may not have necessarily perceived. The difficulties Israel experienced were in alignment with the curses for disobedience in Leviticus 26:14-46; God sent them not as arbitrary punishments but as warnings to encourage return and restoration. Yet Israel did not hear; God was left without any other remedy. It was not as if Israel could say that God had given them no warning, inkling, or indication of what was to come in 732 and 722; far from it. Nor was the imminent doom of Israel something God wanted or desired; instead, God had warned the people through the prophets and the calamities they experienced. They did not hear; therefore, they would meet their God, and they would regret it terribly.

All of what Amos said seemed laughable or remote to the Israelites in the days of of Jeroboam (II) king of Israel; after all, the calamities were in the past, and they were enjoying a great moment of power and prosperity. Forty years later, what Amos had warned had come to pass. Israel had met its God, and it did not go well for Israel.

Christians do well to learn from the example of Israel lest they fall by the same pattern of disobedience (1 Corinthians 10:1-12). We should not be enriched at the expense of the poor or the needy; having others do the dirty work for us will not absolve us of blame or responsibility (James 5:1-6). All acts of our religious service in life, whether in the assembly or in our personal lives, are good things, but they must be done according to the ways and will of the Lord, and are no substitute for embodying the love, compassion, and benevolence of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17, James 1:22-27). God seeks to discipline us for our own good, but we must accept the chastisement lest we are found deficient when the Lord Jesus returns (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:4-11). One day we will meet our God; it is up to us whether it will be a glorious day of meeting our Beloved, or whether it will be a terrifying experience of the wrath of God (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). May we serve God in Christ, obtain the resurrection of life, and avoid condemnation!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Lament | The Voice 8.40: October 07, 2018

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So many in modern Western culture do whatever they can to avoid pain, suffering, or discomfort; so much, therefore, is left unsaid, unaddressed, and would rather be forgotten. We have intentionally neglected times and seasons for lament, even among the people of God, and we suffer because of it.

Lament is a powerful expression of pain and/or grief. In the Scriptures lament is most commonly associated with the book of Lamentations, composed to give voice for Israel to grieve and lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Most of the Psalms feature lament in some way or another, giving vent to grief and suffering on account of the hostility of enemies, illness, betrayal, sin, and feelings of abandonment. In the New Testament Jesus lamented over Lazarus’ death and the grief displayed by his sisters (John 11:33-35); Jesus promised the disciples would lament His death before His resurrection (John 16:20); Christians made great lamentation over Stephen after his death (Acts 8:2).

No one mistakes lament for a pleasant process; nevertheless, during this life, we will have moments and perhaps even seasons of lament. People around us suffer from sickness, oppression, and death; at times we ourselves suffer from these as well. In lament we confess the brokenness of the world subject to the corruption and decay of sin and death, and our powerlessness to do much about it (Romans 5:12-21, 8:18-23). When informed of tragic news, or having recognized complicity in sinful forms of injustice and oppression or inaction in the face of injustice and oppression, we do well to lament and mourn what has transpired. We may lament as individuals, giving voice to our pain, suffering, frustration, anxiety, distress, or any other malady before God (cf. 1 Peter 5:7); we do well to find relevant psalms and pray them, using the inspired Psalter to help us communicate our grief and pain before God. We also have reason to lament together in community, mourning with those who mourn, and welcoming and accepting those who have suffered among us (Romans 12:15, 1 Corinthians 12:26).

In lament we go to the house of mourning, which the Preacher wisely recognized provided greater value than the house of feasting (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Our modern society is enraptured with the house of feasting: youth and youthful looks are idolized, happiness seems to be the goal, and everyone seems to attempt to showcase their best life on Instagram. By necessity, therefore, aging is the worst and is to be hidden at all costs; any sort of physical, mental, or emotional difficulty is weakness and must be suppressed; discussing or focusing on our mortality is awkward and uncomfortable; and Epicureanism and its attendant desire to avoid all pain and suffering is the philosophy of the day. Very little space is given for those who suffer; anyone going through any distress or pain quickly learns that they make others uncomfortable, and do best if they hide away. They are told to get over it, happy up, or smile, reflecting the vacuous promises of the self-help movement whose promise cannot be sustained in the creation marred by corruption. Depression and suicide are prevalent, and why not? We are made to feel the crushing weight of hopelessness and inadequacy if we are not living up to the pretenses of youth, health, fulfillment, and happiness.

The church ought to be a refuge in times like these, but unfortunately, the people of God have in too many places forgotten the practice of lament. Some remain overly enraptured with the idol of positivity, mistaking Biblical exhortations to joy for the superficial happiness of the world. Most recognize the existence of suffering, pain, and brokenness in the world, but have not been equipped with the resources of lament. The modern songbook is of little use in this regard; precious few hymns give voice to grief or suffering, and they are easily drowned out by the emphasis on praise. Let none be deceived: praise is well, good, and necessary; praise is an important feature of the psalms. Yet more psalms feature lament than praise, and this is not even remotely true of the modern Christian hymnal repertoire. Prayers are often offered for those in various forms of distress, yet true lament over sin, suffering, and the like is also rarely found offered in the assemblies of the saints, and might be considered awkward or embarrassing to some. Not a few Christians have found themselves adrift, despondent and in distress, and do not where to go in order to find acknowledgement of their struggle and the means by which to find sustenance in God to endure and overcome them. Some such Christians fall away, spiritually dying of thirst in an ocean of positivity and praise.

Lament is awkward, uncomfortable, and unpleasant; by necessity it dwells upon our failings, our inadequacies, our shame, our sin, and our suffering, and/or that of others. Yet, just as in Christ we are made strong when we are weak, so in lament we are strengthened and encouraged when we confess our limitations and failures (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). In lament we speak the reality of sin, sickness, and suffering; we no longer have to hide in shame from these realities, pretend they do not exist, or anxiously presume they can only happen to other people. In lament we humbly depend upon God, for hope of real justice, grace, mercy, and redemption are in Him and nowhere else. In lament we identify the lies of our society and culture and liberate people from the need to continue to maintain the pretense that everything is great and fantastic all the time. In lament we give space for people to mourn, to grieve, and to come to grips with their faults and failings, all of which are necessary to overcome.

Lament, however, is not an end unto itself; if we grieve and mourn but have no hope, we are no different from the Gentiles. As demonstrated in the psalms of lament and in Lamentations, lament is empowered by a strong faith in God that He will heal, enact justice, and redeem. The disciples lamented Jesus’ death, but on the third day their lament turned to joy, for the Lord Jesus overcame death in His resurrection (Luke 24:1-53). The hope of resurrection sustains the Christian: yes, in this life we will have suffering, grief, and ultimately death; yet, in Christ, we will overcome sin and death, and share in the resurrection in which there will be no more mourning, pain, tears, or death (John 16:30-33, Philippians 3:20-21, Revelation 21:1-22:6). We lament injustice knowing that the God of justice will soon come and judge the living and the dead and make all things right (Acts 17:30-31). It is fitting, therefore, for all lament to end in declarations of faith and confidence in God. In the world there would be no hope; right would make right; suffering and evil are just the way things are. It is because we have confidence in God as our Creator, a God of love and justice, a God who allowed His Son to die for our sins and raised Him for our justification that we can lament over present illness, pain, sin, suffering, and death.

Lament may not be fun, but we were never promised a fun-filled ride to eternity. The way to Zion is through Calvary; we will have to endure seasons of lament if we would obtain the resurrection of life. Yet lament is not the end; our ground of hope is in the resurrection of Jesus, confidence in His return and judgment, and eternity in the resurrection in joy. May we grow in faith in God in Christ and obtain that resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry