A reader remarked on a phrase in an earlier Fish Hooks (‘In the Boat’) suggesting that the church was a place where believers “huddle together during the storms of persecution and challenge.” Doesn’t this suggest that Christians should withdraw from the world and hide from its problems in the comfort of our faith? To “bury our heads in the sand” (as legend said that ostriches do) and be oblivious to the threats that are raging around us?
That’s a thoughtful observation. Christians at various times have indeed reacted that way. Ancient Christian hermits, for example, used to retreat to desert caves or inaccessible pinnacles where they would live lives of solitary contemplation free from all contact with the world. Some Medieval ascetics even had themselves walled up in sealed cells so as to be imprisoned in voluntary ‘solitary confinement.’ Even today, some Christian communities seek to disengage from worldly contacts. Now we must be careful that we do not judge the piety of others, and there is indeed much to be said for solitude as an appropriate setting for contemplation and spiritual renewal. But the trouble with permanent withdrawal from the world is that we no longer influence it. Jesus said:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
This is one of those “duhh!” illustrations that Jesus was fond of – how stupid is it to go to the trouble and expense of lighting a lamp and then putting it under a cover so that no light escapes? No sane person would do that, and obviously God wouldn’t either! He has put His light in our lives so that we can be beacons of His Truth to enlighten the world!
We live in ‘interesting’ times! On the one hand, we enjoy the highest standard of material abundance, the greatest physical comfort and security, and the most leisure and opportunity for self-expression that human societies have ever experienced. Yet, there is widespread anxiety and apprehension – even desperation. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that world events and social developments are spiraling ‘out of our control.’
Well, here’s the bad news: that’s exactly right! If there is one thing that readers of the Bible should know it’s that the events of our world really ARE out of our control! The idea that mankind controls its own destiny is a delusion that’s mocked by history – both sacred and secular.
But here’s the good news: our future is firmly under the control of a loving God who is determined to destroy the forces of evil and suffering and bring us safely home to Him! In fact, the victory has already been won by Jesus’ sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection, and we’re now living through the ‘mop-up’ skirmishes where the Good News of God’s liberation is being proclaimed to the world (against the violent resistance of Satan).
And that brings us back to the paradox of refuge: though every ship needs a safe harbor, that’s not where they are designed to sail! The tumultuous circumstances of our lives – both the external and the internal ‘storms’ – can leave us shaken and confused. God knows this and opens His arms to give us refuge and strength (Psalm 46). We find this comfort in our own private lives of devotion, but most particularly in the company of our fellow believers where we share His Word of promise and His presence in the meal of Holy Communion. It is this spiritual ‘fuel’ that allows our lamps to burn brightly with confidence in our Lord. And it is fueled with this calm assurance in the promises of the One who loves us that we sail out to bring His light to our dark and desperate world.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)