Repenting in a World of Hurt

A friend and I were sharing how we don’t want to attend funerals so often. I’ve been to two in the last week. The people in my circle of friends are dying, some because they have aged, others due to chronic illness that overtook them. Fatal diseases, infections, and the world’s crises are increasing, including natural disasters, weather changes, climate degradations, and ongoing wars. My heart is weary of weeping, internally if not outwardly. But contrary to what some people might say, “things” are not worse now than they have ever been. If anything, it’s easier for most people to stay alive and well longer today than it ever has been. Unfortunately, the world’s reaction is to take all our conveniences, technology, medical knowledge, scientific research, and infrastructure enhancements for granted. Those of us who have lived in developing countries have the advantage of remembering that the distribution of these benefits is not equal around the globe. Many of the world’s leaders are meeting in Glasgow now, to discuss the global climate concerns requiring international mediation. We are living in a hurting world, but of course, we want to focus on the positive, happier aspects of life, don’t we? It’s good to have a thankful, peaceful countenance, which is possible when we have the Holy Spirit residing in us. It’s also vital to know when and how to lament the insidious sin that infects our cultures. This week I wanted to meditate on a New Testament passage, particularly about the hope of the gospel. However, that’s not where the Lord led me. I am humbly reminded that every book of the Bible points to Christ as the ultimate solution to the world’s problems. Every Christian funeral I attend reminds me of the future we have with Christ after passing from this world. Every non-Christian funeral is an opportunity to cry out to the Lord for the salvation of the elect.

A Cry for Lament in Crisis

“We study the prophets because we have a superior revelation from God. ‘Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.’ (Matthew 13:16-17)…We see the problems that Jesus solves…Jesus accomplished a far greater redemption than just returning one people group to a run-down land. His gospel goes out to all people as His Word is preached, to make one holy nation that will live with Him forever in perfect justice and righteousness…Jesus meets the needs, solves the problems, and resolves the tensions left unanswered, unsolved, and unresolved throughout the Old Testament.” (1) I am grateful for Guthrie’s reminder of the gospel’s power to ultimately reconcile all the world’s problems, including the issues handled by God through the prophetic books. We will turn to the book of Joel, which offers us an inspired view on how to seek repentance during a national crisis. “We do not know much about Joel or the circumstances of the writing of his book, except that an invasion of locusts had swept through Judah, and that in its own way this was as terrifying and unsettling… Joel had witnessed a devastating invasion of Judah by locusts and that he had recognized that it was God himself, and not mere chance, who was responsible…The remarkable thing is how [Joel] deals with it. To begin with, he does not treat the disaster lightly, as certain kinds of Christian people tend to do. That is, he does not imbibe the ‘best of all possible worlds’ philosophy…Joel is concerned that everyone see the disaster as he does, which means that he would not even have sympathy with an optimistic philosophy. Instead of slighting the problem, he accepts it in its full horror and calls on various groupings of people within the land to mourn with him.” (2)  

Joel’s Call to the Leaders

“Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God! Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.” (Joel 1:13-14) “First, he calls on the elders. They are the leaders of the people. They are to take the lead in facing up to the enormity and meaning of this disaster…The second group Joel appeals to is drunkards…as he points out, it is not only the vines that are affected; the fig trees are also destroyed; the grain is devoured; the oil of the olive is lost; the pomegranate, palm, and apple tree are ruined. Even the ground is dried up. Nor is it only the fields that are affected: ‘Surely the joy of mankind is withered away.’ Pity the farmers, the third group! ‘Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed. The last of the groups addressed by Joel are priests. He calls on them to lead the nation in mourning. At the end of the chapter Joel, who was perhaps himself a priest, leads the way with a sample prayer of mourning. Christians need to learn from Joel’s approach to suffering…we do often tend to treat disaster lightly—especially when it does not happen to us. (3) How often do we pray for God’s intercession and repentance on these four groups to change, repent, and lead others to do the same? If God calls for his Old Testament people to cry out to him for mediation in the crises of sin’s consequences, shouldn’t we do at least that with their leaders’ example? Shouldn’t we acknowledge the far-reaching effects of sin and pray for the repentance of our leaders and nations, seeking God’s intercession?

The Necessity of National and Global repentance

Today, our world is suffering from the global effects of the COVID virus, climate change, and overwhelming immigration needs, to name just a few problems. We, who are all priests in Christ, do well to follow Joel’s example, acknowledging the far-reaching effects of sin and praying for the repentance of our leaders and nations, seeking God’s intercession. God calls for his people, with their leaders’ example, to cry out to him for mediation in the crises of sin’s consequences. “Many passages in the Old Covenant speak of returning to the Lord, and while repentance is not always the word used in the English translation, repentance is indeed the subject…After detailing something of the tragic harlotries of Israel, the Lord stirred Hosea to prophesy, ‘the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to His goodness in the latter days (Hosea 3:5). A tender invitation followed: ‘Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1)…The subject of corporate sin and corporate repentance is very prominent in the Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament. But strangely and sadly, the modern church has overlooked this critical issue…the gross sins that defile the whole land, making the nation guilty before God.…the prevalence of [such] sin is so great that some of the remnant of faithful believers who remain are gripped by a spirit of pessimism and do little more than sit quietly by, hoping for an end-time deliverance.” (4) “Repentance is the proper response to the disaster at hand, and it must begin with the spiritual leaders. Their livelihood as well as their role as representatives of the people before God is at stake. They must appoint a fast and call a sacred assembly. It is not enough that the leaders repent. They must gather the elders and all the people to the house of the Lord and beseech him for mercy. At this juncture the prophet warns that the present sadness is merely a prelude to an even more disastrous possibility.” (5)

“In the closing words of the Old Covenant… ‘those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him”‘ (Malachi 3:16-17).” (6) Our devotion to God and his ways is not by feelings, but by his command. We must embrace the sadness of life, cry out to him for repentance of the nations, and pray for mercy. “‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” (Joel 2:12-13)

Related Scripture: 2 Chronicles 20:2-6; Jeremiah 4:8; Joel 1:8; Micah 1:8; Luke 10:23-24; Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 1:10-12.

Notes

  1. Guthrie, Nancy, “The Word of the Lord: Seeing Jesus in the Prophets,” Chapter 1, Crossway, 2014.
  2. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” Joel 1, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Boice, Ibid.
  4. Roberts, Richard Owen, “Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel,” pp. 49, 288-290 Crossway, 2002.
  5. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Joel 1:13-20, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.
  6. Roberts, Ibid.

November 4, 2021

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