Okay, so I'm done with Christians speaking for God. Flipping through channels the other day, providence lend me to tune into Glenn Beck. It only took a few minutes for me to want to turn the channel.
What disturbed me? What unsettled my soul?
In musing on the recent tragedy in Japan, Glenn looked into the camera with his piercing eyes and with his solemn voice announced that all of this destruction and suffering in Japan is a message from God.
Really, Glenn? Are you now claiming prophetic status? It's you, Elijah and Jeremiah, is it?
It's so much easier to be a prophet in the Old Testament. Your anointing, God's message to you, your defined role as a prophet--it's all right there in black and white. These days in the 21st century, anyone can claim to speak for God. Unfortunately, the references, the anointing, the actual words from the Lord don't usually follow...
One ought to be very careful when they claim to be the deliverer of the Lord's message. After all, we do have examples of false prophets in the Bible. Their pedigree is simple. They tell us what we want to hear. Their message doesn't resonate with the Scriptures.
We even have examples of false prophets in the Scriptures. Consider if you will Job's friends. In the midst of the "natural" disasters of his life, their prophetic words were similar to Beck's. "It's a wake-up call dude!" "Stop offending the Lord!" "You know you deserved it. Own up to all of it before something else happens!"
Surprisingly, their counsel is not affirmed by the Lord. It is rebuked. Glenn, are you listening? Are we?
When disaster like these strike, there are too many Christians who want to hear that this is a message from God. They want false prophets like Glenn Beck to tell them that this God's judgment on a world living in sin, on a country worshiping a false religion, on a people who don't share our values. When you have to answer "Where was God in all this?" it is easier to simply say "He was giving you and me a wake-up call!" than it is to deal like Job with the silence of God.
As I continue to watch and pray over the devastation in Japan, I am haunted by Shusaku Endo's (Japan's own Graham Greene) book "Silence". Written in 1966, "Silence" tells the story of a Jesuit priest's visit to Japan during the 17th century to investigate the rumors that one of the most influential members of their order has renounced his faith in Christ.
A particular scene comes to mind as the priest looks out over a ruined village, and prays:
"The village had been burnt to the ground; and its inhabitants had been completely dispersed. The sea and the land were silent as death; only the dull sound of the waves lapping against the boat broke the silence of the night. Why have you abandoned us so completely? he prayed in a weak voice. Even the village was constructed for you; and have you abandoned it in its ashes? ... Have you just remained silent like the darkness that surrounds me? Why? At least tell me why. We are not strong men like Job who was afflicted with leprosy as a trial. There is a limit to our endurance. Give us no more suffering. So he prayed. But the sea remained cold, and the darkness maintained its stubborn silence."
For Endo, God's silence is not absence but presence. It is the silence of accompaniment rather than abandonment. The writer, Henri Nouwen, explains the paradox this way: "[God's] presence is so much beyond the human experience of being together that it quite easily is perceived as absence. [God's] absence, on the other hand, is so often deeply felt that it leads to a new sense of [God's] presence."
If you reread the Book of Job, Job's anguished cries against God's absence paradoxically assumes God's presence. God is silent in Job's life but Job continues to wrestle with God anyway. In the end, Job is vindicated. He was not wrestling with the air or a figment of his imagination. His cries for justice, for restoration, for healing and for hope were not, as supposed by "his friends", marks of vanity or apostasy--they were emblems of faith. As C.S. Lewis, who in reflecting on the book of Job, writes: "Apparently the way to advance from our imperfect apprehension of justice to the absolute justice is not to throw our imperfect apprehensions aside but boldly to go on applying them."
As I continue to wrestle with God in the midst of what has happened in Japan, New Zealand, Haiti, etc., I pray and cry out for justice, for healing, for restoration and for hope. I press on, I press into, the silence of God knowing that the Lord is there, knowing that He is suffering with us. I listen to the words of true prophet, of John the Baptist, who offers the definitive message from God--the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. I look up to a cross and see God in the flesh crucified--I see the real picture of God's judgment on a world broken by sin, on countries addicted to more false gods than can be counted, on a people whose values apart from the Spirit are bankrupt and self-serving.
God's judgment is God grace. An offering of love in the face of rejection and ridicule. A word of forgiveness in the midst of a cacophony of taunts, curses and insults.
I look to the cross and I anticipate resurrection. God is present in our silence but the silence will not remain. Out of the void, the abyss, the silence of death, will come a cry of redemption and reconciliation. "It is finished!" "Behold, I am making all things new!"
The promise of God offered by Jesus Christ in the face of death equip me to understand the promises of God offered in the midst of life, which will in turn, equip me to understand the promises of God in the midst of silence. More than this, I realize that God's silence is only prolonged when I refuse to speak this message, when I refuse to live it out.
People like Glenn Beck can keep speaking for God all they want. As for me and my house, I am just going to keep pointing to Jesus--not just with my fingers but with the entirety of my life.
Rather than telling the people of Japan that God is sending you a message, can we as followers of Christ, become God's message of hope, healing and love?