Why sit we here until we die?
There is an interesting story in the book of 2 Kings that speaks in the simplest of terms to the deteriorating situation of an ailing Church. Ben-Hadad, the king of Syria, had decided to besiege Samaria. If one possesses sufficient patience, laying siege can be a very effective military tactic. Often It involves nothing more than encircling a fortified position and waiting. In time, supply routes are cut, and the enemy will either starve or surrender.
The whole operation actually went quite well for Ben-Hadad. This becomes evident when you scan the menu inside the city:
The situation was bleak for the inhabitants of Samaria.
Numbered among the residents of the city were four leprous men who sat at the entrance of the gate. Given their perspective at the time, life’s silver lining was pretty tattered. As they looked outside the city, they saw the Syrian army perched like vultures awaiting their prey. Inside the city, starvation had taken its toll and panic was beginning to set in. Then, as they tried to cover their eyes from the sight, they were reminded of their own leprous, decaying flesh. Finally, motivated by desperation, they came to that pivot point where one realizes things are not going to improve and, for better or for worse, decided to “do something.” They asked themselves, “Why sit we here until we die?”
Perhaps for the Church of Jesus Christ, standing in the twilight of a spent civilization, it is high time we ask ourselves the same question. A fatalistic, apocalyptic policy of laissez-faire doesn’t seem quite in order while society is decaying and collapsing around us. Do we doubt that society is collapsing? In light of the ample visual and statistical evidence available today, it is doubtful that anyone other than a naive idealist or fanatic optimist could believe it is not. Nevertheless, the question remains: Just how bad do things have to get before we take action? Are we waiting until our nation is completely trampled into dust—until we are ultimately and utterly consumed? Why sit We here until we die?
When you read further in this biblical account, it’s interesting to note that four desperate lepers discovered that God had driven the Syrians out of their camp. God had spoken earlier through Elisha concerning the release that was to come, but the officialdom would have none of it.
Then Elisha said, ‘Listen to the word of the LORD; thus says the LORD, “Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.” And the royal officer on whose hand the king was leaning answered the man of God and said, ‘Behold, if the Lord should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?’ Then he said, ‘Behold you shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.’ 2 Kings 7:1–2 (NASB)
The cynical unbelief of the royal officer became his death sentence. Unlike the four lepers who had also concluded the situation was nearly terminal, he neglected to add two vitally important ingredients to the situation—hope and action. Did not the word of the Lord through the prophet Elisha provide sufficient grounds for the exercise of faith and the manifestation of hope?
When we respond to the Word of the Lord with hope and action, we will surely live to see His deliverance. If, on the other hand, we allow circumstances to foster unbelief, then we shall perish.
So the people went out and plundered the camp of the Syrians. Then a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord. Now the king appointed the royal officer on whose hand he leaned to have change of the gate; but the people trampled on him at the gate, and he died just as the man of God had said… 2 Kings 7:16–17 (NASB)
In the New Testament this same issue is addressed in Jesus’ parable of the pounds (Matthew 25:14). Jesus, speaking of Himself, describes a certain nobleman who prepares to leave on a long journey. He gathers his servants together in order to deliver parting instructions. As they stand before him he gives pounds (or talents) to each one with the command, “Occupy till I come.”
Eventually the nobleman returns to reckon with his servants. One has gained ten pounds, another five. Yet another comes with the word that his pound is wrapped up in a napkin and safely hidden. The master is delighted with the productivity of the first servants. The last servant, however, is a different matter. His report ignites the nobleman’s fury.
Why was the master angry? What was the basic difference between the first servants and the last? I think it can be summed up in a word—inactivity. He simply didn’t do anything with his pound. He had somehow failed to understand, or more likely failed to act upon, his master’s instructions to “Occupy till I come.” The consequences were severe.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 25:30
The Master’s servants still have difficulty interpreting His instruction today. Many seem to be convinced that it means, “Occupy this church pew until the Lord returns.” It has become simply a matter of obtaining our salvation, wrapping it up nicely in religious trappings and waiting. “Suffocating indifference” is the way Leonard Ravenhill put it:
We Christians are so willfully smug to the lostness of men! We are chronically lazy and so callously indifferent! As lax, loose, lustful and lazy Laodiceans, we are challenging God to spew us out of His mouth. Leonard Ravenhill, Sodom Had No Bible, Ravenhill Books, p. 77.
Who will release the prisoners of the earth? Alexander Solzhenitsyn in a recent, smoldering editorial asked this poignant question: “Do we have the freedom of indifference to a distant alien’s trampled freedom?” Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “The Abuse of Freedom” U.S. News & World Report, September 13, 1976. Consider the following scripture before you answer.
Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, O hold them back. If you say, ‘See, we did not know this,’ does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work? Proverbs 24:11 (NASB)
In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand-fold in the future. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago Pt. 1, Harper & Row, p. 178.
If we wait for history to present us with freedom and other precious gifts, we risk waiting in vain. History is us—and there is no alternative but to shoulder the burden of what we so passionately desire and bear it out of the depths. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, (Forward) From Under the Rubble, Bantam Books.