It is very easy for us as Christians to disdainfully dismiss the plight of the world as “not being our problem”. We reason that the world is very bad and we can only expect it to be very bad because it is, after all, the world and under the judgement of God. However, is this a reasonable attitude to have? I want to look at three examples:
Nehemiah. Nehemiah in ch.1 of the book that bears his name, hears of the state of his nation back in Judah. He hears that things are in a bad way. This led him to prayer and fasting. As part of his prayer he says I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly towards you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses (Neh. 1:6b-7). Now it could be said that he is acting as part of the people of God here and that is different to our attitude to the world. However, there does seems an attitude of identifying with his community which leads him to a prayer of confession. He feels for his people before the Lord. He cannot bring them to repentance, but he does long for that return and by using scripture in v9 he pleads on the basis of Deuteronomy 30:2-5 that the people would return. Do we have this heart for our communities which are immersed in sins and facing disastrous consequences as a result?
Daniel. Daniel ch.9 of the prophecy that bears his name, is down in Babylon in an earlier era to that of Nehemiah, but his experiences are very similar. Daniel is prompted to turn to the Lord in prayer by awareness from Jeremiah’s prophecy of a seventy year captivity. Daniel in prayer, confesses the waywardness of the people he belongs to. He says, “we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land” (Dan. 9;5-6). One thing that strikes me here is that Daniel could have set himself apart from his community and said “I have not been like you lot”. But he has this longing for his people. That attitude means that he responds in a way in which he confesses with his people.
Isaiah. In Isaiah 24 we find Isaiah setting forth how this whole world will fall under the crushing judgement of the Lord. At one point, Isaiah 24:16b, we read
But I said, ‘I waste away, I waste away!
Woe to me!
The treacherous betray!
With treachery the treacherous betray!’
In that statement there is an indication that Isaiah is overwhelmed by what the world is facing. He is not an indifferent and distant messenger. The lament of heart is very similar to his personal laments in Isaiah 6. Here his lament is for himself as part of a condemned world.
These instances lead me to ponder upon how we respond to the wretchedness of the communities of which we are a part. In no one sense we rightly distinguish ourselves as those who are called to be saints and who are therefore called out of the world. And yet we are part of our communities whether that be local, national and international. We should, therefore, have a sense of grieving with what we see around us. We live among people who, very sadly, who are yet palpably are under the judgement of God. Do we flippantly dismiss their situation and say that they deserve it or do we respond with brokenness? I am reminded of the words of the psalmist: Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed. (Ps. 119:136).
I wrote here about how the disasters which we see in the world should lead us to repentance. But let us not just think of those outside in the world needing to repent , as they rightly do, but let us think of our need. In a sense we should be the leaders in our community in the way of confession and repentance.