“Your word is a lamp to my feet…”
It still is!
How many changes have you and I had to adapt to in our lifetime? Getting money out of ATM machines; paying our bills online; using plastic cards to pay for purchases instead of real money; emails instead of hand-written letters; Skype in communicating with friends and family overseas and actually seeing them on the screen in front of us; suffering from damaged eardrums having to listen to loud music wherever we go, including church; and so on. Imagine some people saying that we oldies are not prepared to change!
But some changes are much more problematic. There has been a great cry for ‘freedom’; freedom to do what we want to do without censorship to spoil our ‘fun’.
Over the years I have noted how many adult Christians who seemed to have strong Christian values to begin with, gradually watered down their views on many things on the basis of their children’s views. It’s natural that the people closest to us, have the greatest influence on us.
What does that say to me? Is it possible that the parents’ views didn’t come from the Bible in the first place, but were shaped by the group of Christians they used to mix with, and they had been dying for someone to come along and tell them to loosen up? Perhaps they were never really thought through carefully enough to see if they were really based on the Bible.
On the other hand the danger exists that what we call ‘contemporary’ thinking has influenced their attitude towards the Bible generally. It is very easy for any of us to come to think that the Bible belongs either to the distant past, or to some extreme Christian group that keeps holding onto it, in the face of changing times.
A confused world
I think we live in a very confused world today. We continue to be told that education can solve the problems of ignorance; our attitudes towards HIV sufferers; towards racial discrimination; towards homosexuals; and can teach us respect for all people no matter how different they may be. While education can certainly help, it can’t change human nature. If it could, then why haven’t we been able to solve many of the problems that still exist? Has education let us down?
Our human wisdom is not the starting point for solving any problems, in any sphere, ether personal, or in society, or in the world. If the younger generation of Christians feel strongly that the older generation is out of step with today’s world, what are they building their understanding on? Is the Bible the basis for their understanding? And, if the older generation is prepared to change, on what basis is it prepared to change? The critical question is, what guides our understanding of what is right or wrong; what needs to change, and what is unchangeable?
For those of us who have lived through ¾ of a century, the changes we have witnessed and have had to get used to, have been enormous, and intimidating. We can opt out of what is happening and disappear into our private cacoon. Or, we can provide wisdom and guidance for the younger generation, and be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ wherever we are.
I don’t believe that we are meant to simply ‘dog-paddle’ in today’s confused world. Do you remember the OT story of how God led Israel after delivering them out of Egypt? It was with a pillar of fire by night, and a pillar of cloud by day. It was his Presence that went with them. When Israel rebelled against God by making a golden calf so that they could worship it instead of God, God threatened not to go with them any further. You might remember how Moses pleaded with God not to desert them. He said,
If your Presence does not go with us, don’t send us up from here… What else will distinguish me and your people from all other people on the face of the earth? (Ex. 33:15-16).
What distinguished Israel from the other nations was that God was with them. He brought them into being; he watched over them; he provided for them; he led them. He was personally involved in their lives; not from a distance, but from their very midst. And God has not changed. That’s what he is prepared to do for us…today!
How did he lead them? How did he make his will clear to them? He gave them his Word. He had spoken to them, and the essentials of what he wanted them to know were written down for them, so that they could always remind themselves of what he was like, what he had done for them, and how he wanted them to live.
Once that was written down, wasn’t there a danger that all that information could get out of date? After all, look at the progress nations have made in science, in medicine, in technology, in so many different ways. How can what God said thousands of years ago still be relevant to us today?
People who believe in the theory of evolution say that we are all evolving, getting better, growing in our understanding to the extent that we can now solve more and more of our own problems. We don’t need God. Unfortunately, the idea that human beings are getting wiser and better was knocked on the head with World War 1 and then World War 2. We continue to see the incredible inhumane way people treat each other in so many parts of the world. The problem lies in sinful human nature that hasn’t shown any improvement throughout history. We might wear nicer clothes, although that is debatable. We might seem much more sophisticated, although that is also debatable. We might be incredibly advanced in technology, although how much of it is constructive, and how much is destructive of our humanity? But the hearts of people have always been the same, with the same inclination to reject God, to refuse to listen to him, and to grope around in the dark fooling themselves that they are really wise.
But we also know that God does not change. And that brings us hope. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Just as well; otherwise what he said yesterday could not be relied on today, or tomorrow. He is totally dependable and trustworthy. What he has demonstrated about himself in the past hasn’t changed; nor has his Word changed. Human beings need to be able to rely on something that is constant and unchanging. That’s what we find in God and his Word, the Bible. Ordinary things that are constant and unchanging can get stale; but not with God.
The changes our society is facing today are not new at all. The same essential problems are spoken about in the Bible, and God’s attitude towards the changes we are facing today is the same as it has always been. Solomon, the wisest king who ever lived (at least for part of his life), said that there is nothing new under the sun. We only like to think that we have progressed and that the Bible is out of date, but that is our ignorance and our arrogance.
When the psalmist said, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path, what did he mean? He was talking about the guidance God gives and the confusion he dispels through his Word; something we all desperately need every day of our lives.
Prof. C S Lewis was asked what made him return to the Christian faith, and to accept the reality of God. His answer was,
“I believe in Christianity [or in God] as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
God, through his Word, helps us to see things the way they really are, not the way the world wants us to understand life. Light dispels darkness. John, one of Jesus’ disciples had a lot to say about ‘light’. He said, God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (1 Jn. 1:5).
God doesn’t want us to grope around in the dark, confused, troubled, misled. His presence dispels darkness. He does this through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (Jn. 8:12).
The starting point
That is our starting point if we ever want to understand what is happening to us and to the world around us. It begins with God’s light clarifying life for us in the person of his own Son, Jesus Christ. John says, In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (Jn. 1:4).
Do people who claim a more contemporary way of understanding what it means to be a Christian in today’s world find the basis for their understanding in Jesus Christ and in the Bible? Does the younger or the older generation of Christians keep going back to the Bible again and again to try to understand what God wants them to understand, and how he wants them to live in today’s world?
God, who is light, and in whom is no darkness or confusion, made sure that we don’t walk in darkness and confused, by giving us his own Son to help us live life with understanding. How we live depends on two things:
- Our ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ.
John tells us that, If we walk in the light, as he (God) is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 Jn. 1:7). But what does it mean to walk in the light as God is in the light? It involves…
- Our daily walk in the light of God’s Word.
That’s what the psalmist meant when he said, Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.
To walk in God’s light is to walk in the light of what he has said to us. It doesn’t matter how young or how old we are, our daily walk matters to God. He doesn’t want us to be confused, and to latch unthinkingly onto every changing trend that comes our way, nor does he want us to cling to ideas that are not truly based on what he has said in his Word. Sadly, some Christians tend to be like that.
Perhaps if we are confused and troubled by what is happening around us, not knowing where the truth lies, we are not allowing God’s Word to clarify things for us on a daily basis. That’s where we find stability; clarity; dependability; certainty; and … peace!
The sin of independence
The biggest danger is the sin of independence. The word ‘sin’ is often misunderstood, even among Christians. People tend to think, but I haven’t killed anyone, I haven’t robbed a bank; I haven’t raped anyone; I haven’t defrauded anyone. So in what way am I a sinner? These are merely the by-product of sin; not sin itself. Sin, is trying to live life independently of God. In other words, thinking we can do it all on our own. This is what has created a huge gap between us and God. And there is no way you or I can bridge that gap. God has to do it, and he has done it through the incredible death of his own Son on the cross. That is why we can’t be reconciled with God any other way except on the basis of his Son, Jesus Christ. But when we do admit to our lost-ness and submit ourselves to him, we receive new life, a life by which we receive new light, new understanding.
I remember a friend of ours who finally surrendered her life to Jesus Christ after fighting against this commitment for a long time. She said that when she went back to work at the university that week, she saw things as she had never seen them before. The university grounds were beautifully landscaped, but she had never appreciated the natural beauty of the gardens that surrounded her every day. Even the green seemed so much greener, she used to say. Perhaps not everyone has this kind of experience. But we certainly look at the issues of life completely differently when we become Christians. She had been living with a young man in a de facto relationship until then. That ended; not because anyone advised her to end it, but God through his Word made that quite plain to her. She began to see things in a new light.
When we reject or neglect God and his Word, we have no other light to guide us except our own limited understanding. We are left to our own devices, and it takes some people a long time to discover that that is not enough.
The problem of neglect
There is the problem of independence, but there is also the problem of neglect. When we as Christians neglect reading and meditating on what God has to say to us through his Word day by day, we fall into a trap. It’s a very subtle trap. We might not even be aware that we are falling into a trap. That’s why it is so dangerous.
We all know what gravity does in real life. It draws things naturally towards its centre. Even Christians are not immune to a natural pull in our nature towards old sinful habits and ways of thinking and behaving. We won’t get rid of this problem in this life-time. The less time we spend reading and absorbing what God has to say in his Word the Bible, the more we get pulled towards thinking and acting in a way the world without God thinks and acts. That is the spiritual gravity that works in all of us. It doesn’t matter how young or how old we are: we can’t avoid it.
For those of us who are getting closer to the end of life here on earth, we need to be all the more careful in preparing ourselves for the new life that is waiting for us. We also need to leave behind a legacy for the younger generation that we don’t have to be ashamed of. I wonder if adult Christians who change their views in an endeavour to be ‘contemporary’, realise the impression they are giving to the younger generation. ‘See, they never really believed what they said they believed.’
Our young people need more than ever to be able to look at our lives, and be convinced that our faith and trust in Christ and in his Word is unshakable. It isn’t because we are rigid and unbending, but because God’s Word is completely reliable and dependable, in the same way God is. What God has said is as relevant today as it has always been.
Our moral values don’t have to change because society tells us to change. We don’t have to change even when past Prime Ministers, or High Court Judges, or even the Governor General tells us we need to change. Why not? Because God has made the wisdom of this world mere foolishness. The thinking of the best minds in the world cannot compare with the so-called foolishness of the way God works. We can rely on his Word completely, because he does not say one thing today and then something different years later. His Word is still a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
I want to conclude with this thought: “Do we read the Bible, or do others tell us what it says?”