if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14 esv
The world is a broken place. There is no denying that. No matter what corner of the earth you look to, chances are that you will find some encroaching evil that the world is turning a blind eye to. Whether it is the child brides of the East, the western genocide of unborn children or the fact that slavery has gone from being a black mark on history to being the world's most profitable industry. Wherever you go, you don't have to look hard to find the monsters hiding under the bed.
For the most part, the church stands separated, uncompromisingly opposed to the great evils of the world. However, far too often, our opposition is demonstrated in silent judgement, rather than in raising the voice of Jesus for the sake of the oppressed. Don't get me wrong, we pray. We talk about the issues in our small groups and we make our declarations, but largely, when facing the great atrocities of the world, our prophets and pastors stand on the promise of the text I opened this thought with. And I think that is something we should talk about.
Whenever we hold to the promises of the Word, it is important that we understand what those promises actually offer. And when it comes to this one, I am fairly convinced that most of us don't. We look at the nation of Israel and compare it, in our minds, to America. We tell ourselves that the United States was founded on christian values, and that somewhere along the line, we steered off of the path of righteousness and that if we fight for repentance, God will break in and restore America to its rightful place as the world's foremost Christian nation.
There's only one problem... Israel is not a shadow of America. It is a shadow of the church.
I love being an American. And that is not something that I say flippantly. I absolutely love being an American. Despite the many concerning aspects of our society's moral compass, and the regular overreaches of our governing authorities, we are a country that allows its people to have a voice. We are a nation where our citizens can be loud and push back against even the hint of tyranny or injustice. Often, we don't. And when we do, many times we probably shouldn't have. But we can. And freedom is something to treasure. With that said, what I treasure even deeper is the freedom and life that I have in the body of Jesus. Which is why I have devoted my life to fighting for more of the church to know those freedoms. Which in turn means saying something when I think we, as a christian culture, on the wrong track. And I think that we are here.
Too often, when we look back at the story of Israel, we tend to see ourselves in their victories, but see the world in their failures. When we see God promising to be their God, we hold that close to our hearts. But when it comes to God expecting more from them, we challenge the lost. And while I understand that, in many way, grace has changed the game and freed us from the harsh demands of the law, we have to be careful about dismissing the similarities between our stories. Not because the consequences of our failures will be the same, but because the foundation God laid in their story still beautifully applies to our own. So let's take a moment to consider whether this text has any application to us today:
"Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king's house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house he successfully accomplished.
"Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: 'I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locus to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.'"
2 Chronicles 7:11-16
I see three important elements to this text that we have to keep in mind when trying to find modern-day relevance:
1. God was speaking to His people.
"I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice." vs. 12
When we apply the promises of the Word, our first task is always identifying who they were made to and figuring out how our stories compare to each other. For instance, when God told Obadiah to write a letter condemning the nation of Edom, none of us would take that promised destruction as warning that God was going to destroy us. Why? Because we know that Edom's war with God's people stretched across the pages of the Old Testament and that they had set themselves up as bitter enemies of Israel. So God's response to their hatred of Israel doesn't apply to us, because we are not the enemies of His people. We are His people.
In the same way, when we apply the other promises of God's Word, we have to ask ourselves, "Is our story the same story that was being told? And if not, where do we fit in this narrative?"
When it comes to the promise in 2 Chronicles 7, God was not speaking to Israel because they were a country. He was speaking to Israel because they were His people. So when we apply it to the world today, we cannot just flippantly dangle this text in front of the lost and tell them that a humble prayer will solve all of the problems of the world. I am not saying prayer will not prove effective for them. I am saying that we should search out the Word for what God has actually promised them, and not hold up scriptures that don't apply to them as evidence of God' will.
This promise was made to the people of God about their land, specifically. In today's world, Christians are the people of God (whether Jew or Gentile) and our land is the church.
2. God was referencing His discipline
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locus to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people... vs. 13
This is perhaps the Church's biggest, and most dangerous, oversight when it comes to this text. When God made this promise, He was speaking to His people about difficulties they were facing as divine response to their sin.
Israel, like today's world, faced many outside threats. Larger surrounding nations, war, slave traders, economic hardships, natural disasters. Although many of the typical struggles a nation faces aren't highlighted in the Word, Israel was unquestionably facing them. However, this promise had nothing to do with them. God was not promising them that repentance would save them from conflict, but that when their sin required His discipline, if they humbled themselves and repented, He would lift His discipline.
Why do I consider this a dangerous oversight? Because God was not talking to the world. When we throw this scripture all over over social media and church power-points in response to the major traumas of the world, we are suggesting that things like Human Trafficking, HIV, Epidemics, Domestic Abuse and Abortion are God's judgement on a sinful people. Our intention may be to say that these issues are the result of depravity and that repentance brings God's freedom...but it's not what we are actually communicating. What we are actually communicating is that the great evils of the world are being sent by God to judge humanity. And that is not the message of the gospel.
The only context where this text can be applied to modern problems is where those modern problems are the result of God disciplining the church.
3. It was about His glory
For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever... vs 16
It is no surprise to us that God's glory matters. It is also no secret that God is desperately in love with the lost. However, I think it is fair to say that most of us have not put together how intimately those two realities work together. How well the church represents God directly determines our effectiveness in discipling the nations. When the church is distracted from its love for God, we distort the image of Jesus (since we are the body of Jesus). Which means that we distort God's glory and cost the Lost the opportunity to see God clearly.
In light of grace, too many of us have dismissed discipline as if it is synonymous with wrath. But it isn't. Even in grace, God disciplines us and guides us into our identity, perfecting us into His image. However, considering that the way God demonstrates His glory through the church is significantly different than how He demonstrated His glory through Israel, the way He disciplines us has changed as well. Let's talk about that a bit.
Israel was set completely apart from the world, consecrated to God and separated from every other nation as an example of God's power, goodness, love and justice. God not only released His power on their behalf to show the world His great strength, but He also set up the law and enforced it with harsh judgement in order to set a standard that coming into God meant coming into His nature as well, but also to prepare them for coming grace. The point was never to beat them into submission. It was to knock it into their thick skulls that the issue of sin was hopeless so that He could then release grace and redeem us all (Galatians 3:19-26). So, under that purpose, God discipled them by punishing them as a nation. Removing His protections and allowing them to be taken into captivity, sending locusts to eat their crops and send them spiraling into economic crisis, allowing their enemies to capture their children and their holy relics. Because they were separated as a nation that was held up as an example of the world, when they failed, he chastised them by striking at them as a nation.
With all of that said, it is important to understand that, while many of us may view America as the modern world's "christian nation", it is not synonymous with "the people of God". Prior to the Cross, which was the great equalizer, Israel were the people of God. But Galatians 3:16 explains that the promise that Israel held was always being reserved for Jesus, and once He had it, He spread it to a people who spread the globe. So, thanks to the blood of Jesus, the Church are the people of God, and we are no longer separated from the world around us. Which means that disciplining us cannot happen by striking at a nation, because we are not a nation. We are a people.
So, what if instead of famine and war, discipline looks like a church without power? What if discipline looks like a church that is divided into factions and lacking the favor of God? What if discipline for the church looks like God removing His hand and letting us have everything we have always wanted... control.
God disciplined Israel by the removal of every protection and favor He had given them. Which translated into unmatched wars, economic collapse and cultural dissaray. But for the church, what if that translates into division, moral compromise and spiritual weakness? What if instead of an enslaved nation, our failure to follow Jesus translates into a powerless people?
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it ha been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each of you says, '"I follow Paul" or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ.". Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
1 Corinthians 1:10-13
History has proven that division is the chief symptom of spiritual compromise. Jesus said that the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). So, we can surmise that the opposite is true as well. They can recognize that we are not following in His footsteps when we demonstrate division. Failing to maintain intimacy in the body of Jesus is to compromise our very identity. But what if it is not a conscious decision, but the consequence of a lifestyle of not walking with Jesus?
When humanity first united itself against God's purposes, He responded by separating them by language barriers (meaning at the tower of babel). Division. When Cain killed Abel, God cursed him to wander the earth as a fugitive. Division. And the pattern continues. I am not suggesting that division comes from God, but that as God humbled humanity, we see a driving force within us coming to the light over and over again. A life of ME.
Here is what I am getting at...
In the same way that grace supernaturally gave us freedom, the Spirit of God supernaturally poured us into one body (1 Corinthians 13). The reason the world can recognize us by our love is because the kind of intimacy that exists in a healthy church cannot exist outside of it. It is supernatural. It is something that exists only in the favor of God. So the question becomes, how can division exist in a body that has been supernaturally assembled by God, Himself? If our intimacy is the result of the divine act of God, how is it that we are so easily throwing it away?
Well... how did it happen the first time?
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish heats were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they they become fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them u in the lusts of their hearts...
Paul explained to the Romans that humanity turned their eyes from God, and as a result, God let them have exactly what they wanted. In the same way that He let Israel pressure Him into giving them a King (1 Samuel 8), he let humanity wander from its devotion to Him and become a planet full of self-seeking, idol-worshiping nations. And now, the church is well on its way to doing the same thing. For although we knew God, we did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but we became futile in our thinking, and our foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, we became fools, exchanging the glory of the immortal God for theologies we claimed clarified His nature but actually distracted us from our worship... and perhaps God has given us up in the lusts of our hearts...perhaps he has heard our cries for control and has allowed us to have it... and perhaps the cost has been the supernatural unity that enabled us to look like Jesus.
I know that I have made some powerful suggestions here. But please... think about them. Look around at the world and ask yourself if the church of our generation has actually stood counter-culturally to the culture of our day. Ask yourself if the church has truly been a city on a hill, setting a standard for the righteousness and power of God in a world that desperately needs it. Have we been a force for the kingdom? A force that cannot be ignored? Or have we spent so much time fighting each other over theologies and traditions that don't even matter that we have actually contributed to the world's distance from God? Are we still a people who are so desperately in love with each other that the world can look at our lives and identify us as the followers of Jesus? Or are we known for our compromise and for being a people who are more about our standards than we do about making room for one another?
The truth is, the secret's out. We all know that we stopped being people of love a very long time ago. And in this moment, the Holy Spirit is saying very loudly that it is about time for us to come back home. This is our moment of change. Where everything that we have compromised for is tossed away and we return to a lifestyle of desperate love. And that all starts with a generation of people who are called by God's name who will humble themselves and pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways. Then, He will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Right now, in this moment, determine that you will not go back to "me"-centered Christianity. Whatever happens, no matter the cost, humble yourself before God and return to a lifestyle of love. That's the only way that the church can heal and become the force in this world that it was born to be. I think it is clear that the Church is divided in more ways than it ever has been, and that has resulted in a church that has no power. So let's repent. Let's turn back. And let's heal.