It's a big year for atheism says Dr. Al Mohler in a recent expose of a sweeping trend dubbed "The New Atheism." Wired magazine's Gary Wolf points out the militant reality that "The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it's evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there's no excuse for shirking." Increasingly, an attempt will be made to demonize Christians as evil for teaching even their own children about God. The marginalization of Christianity takes another step forward.
In another development, and this one within the evangelical church, Mohler informs us that Oliver "Buzz" Thomas asserts that Christianity is losing credibility because so many Christians believe that homosexuality is a sin. Denying a biblical view of sin, he asserts, "Without choice, there can be no moral culpability." With defectors on the rise within evangelicalism itself, the sidelining of Christianity in this culture is underway with a vigorous force that is constantly being refueled.
The gospel is always under attack from without and within the church. That is nothing new nor is the reality that the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. Our comfort is in the power of the gospel itself to save under the sovereign hand of God. At the same time, we can often be discouraged when we find ourselves in a culture of Christian marginalization. What are some of the weighty things we need to grasp in order to get comfort in the midst of such a climate?
First, it's a weighty thing to grasp God's judgment on the wicked and thereby get comfort in the midst of oppression. Consider Nahum, God’s prophet from Elkosh, who received a word from the Lord concerning the impending judgment of Nineveh. God had prophesied judgment upon Nineveh 150 years earlier through His prophet Jonah. At that time, the people repented of their sin as God had given them grace. Here, destruction is coming. The prophecy opens with these words: "The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite (Nahum 1:1)."
The prophet is described as having a burden. So many of the prophets were described in this way with reference to the word, vision, or dream they had received from the Lord concerning His will. At the same time, Nahum is burdened for the people of God: Israel. He wants more than anything for them to be comforted in the face of oppression from the Ninevites who had returned to their old ways of raiding and marauding. Yet, God had not left His people nor had He forsaken them. They needed to be comforted with this reality even as we do in an America that is increasingly hostile to Christ.
The fact that Nahum is described as having a burden highlights the weighty significance of what he is about to say. As God's people understand the message, the impact will be massive in that they will be comforted despite their present circumstances.
Nahum provides comfort to God's people by revealing the nature and character of God. Knowing who God is in all of His majesty is that which steadies the believer's heart during the trials of life. Therefore, Nahum declares, "God is jealous, and the LORD avenges; the LORD avenges and is furious. The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies (v. 2)."
God is jealous or zealous for His own glory and for the well being of His people, particularly in spiritual terms. To say that God is jealous is not to assign the human emotion of jealousy to God. Especially true is the fact that God cannot be charged with a sinful disposition like human jealousy. Human emotions are often ascribed to God that we might understand Him to a certain degree. The use of this anthropopathic language helps us to approach an understanding of God if only in a limited way.
Because God is zealous for His glory and His people, He avenges Himself and them by taking vengeance on His adversaries. Again, He is not capricious nor does He sin in this regard. The idea is that the Lord fights for His glory and His people and He does so with fury, that is, with almighty intensity. To say that He reserves wrath for His enemies means that He has an abiding hatred of sin by virtue of His holy character and pours out a righteous judgment on those who sin against Him and those who belong to Him.
Further, Nahum answers a frequent question in the minds of God's people with another statement about God's character. God does not always judge sin immediately. It appears that the wicked often get away with their sinful deeds though such is not the case. When God seems to delay judgment, it is not owing to His lack of resolve or power to judge. It is owing to His great patience and mercy. Thus, Nahum says, "The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked. The LORD has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet (v. 3)." Yes, He is patient and therefore slow to pour out His wrath. But, do not think that He is not great in power. He is indeed. Furthermore, He will not acquit the wicked despite present appearances.
To illustrate the extensiveness of God's power over men, Nahum reveals the fact that God is the One who controls the weather. He stirs up and stills the tornado or the lightning storm. God is pictured as being so massive that clouds are but dust in comparison. Here we see anthropomorphism with God being described as having feet. Of course He does not. The word picture has impact. When God determines to take care of His enemies, He walks across the heavens kicking up the dust beneath His feet and stirs up the storm of His fury against them.
How we long and pray for God's grace upon those who do not yet know Him! At the same time, it is comforting to know that God is jealous, avenging, and independent. He is jealous for His own glory and His own people and He takes a righteous vengeance on His enemies. In His independence, He exercises patience and power according to His will and He deals with the wicked in His own time and way.
Second, it's a weighty thing to grasp God's power over all creation and thereby get comfort in the midst of oppression. The word pictures continue to be offered by Nahum. With reference to the Lord: "He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, and dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither, and the flower of Lebanon wilts (v. 4)." Not only does God control the seas and the rivers but the climate that causes the grass to grow or whither. As Bashan was known for its rich pastures, Carmel for its ripe corn fields and vineyards, and Lebanon for its giant forests, God brought drought and took those things away. He is sovereign over all the elements of creation and can certainly protect His people or destroy His enemies.
Nahum continues to describe the sovereign power of God. "The mountains quake before Him, the hills melt, and the earth heaves at His presence, Yes, the world and all who dwell in it (v. 5)." When there is seismic activity, it is God. He is in the tsunami and the hurricane; the earthquake and the volcano; He is God.
Moreover, Nahum makes the connection for us: as the world heaves in the presence of God, so too do its people. Let them be afraid as they stand before Him who is almighty.
The prophet spells out his point by way of rhetorical questions: "Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him (v. 6)." No one can stand when God pours out His wrath. God’s fury is like the liquid fire of the volcano that consumes everything in its path and cannot be stopped. When the earth trembles, no one can control it. And, no one can stop or control God. He is the all powerful One.
Nahum brings a final word in this opening statement concerning the judgment of God on His enemies. "But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place, and darkness will pursue His enemies (v. 8)." Nineveh will be overwhelmed by God through an invading army. The great city will come to an end. God's enemies will be placed in spiritual darkness and destruction forever apart from Him. The consequences of rebellion against God are tragic indeed.
Third, it's a weighty thing to grasp God's grace toward His people and thereby get comfort in the midst of oppression. Nahum contrasts the Lord's character and action toward the wicked with His character and action toward those who know Him. He simply affirms, "The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him (v. 7)." The believer derives great comfort from the knowledge that God will judge those who oppress him and that God has the power to back up His promise of judgment.
At the same time, it would be a fearful thing to think of an almighty being that was also evil. Thus, we are comforted by the goodness of God. Further, we are comforted by the fact that His almighty power is made personal to us: He is our stronghold in the day of trouble. And, we are comforted by the fact that God knows us. He knows those who belong to Him and therefore we have no reason to worry or fear. In a culture that is more and more hostile to Christ we still have no reason to be afraid.
Fourth, it's a weighty thing to grasp God’s salvation by faith alone and thereby get comfort in the midst of oppression. It is interesting to note that salvation has always been by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. That reality is summed up here in the simple phrase: "He knows those who trust in Him (v. 7)."
Christians are increasingly finding themselves in a position of marginalization in this culture. God's people face attack, persecution, oppression, and trouble of various kinds throughout their lives. Often they feel as if the Lord has forsaken them for one reason or another. Sometimes God may allow such a feeling to linger so as to move the believer to search for Him with a whole heart. The truth is that God never leaves us nor does He ever forsake us. And yet, during those times when we feel all alone, it is indeed a weighty thing to grasp biblical truth and thereby get comfort in the midst of difficult times.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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