Harsh Words, Harsh Reality

Great wickedness . . . only evil . . . no one who understands . . . worthless . . . open graves . . . deceit . . . poison . . . cursing and bitterness . . . swift to shed blood . . . ruin and misery . . . no fear of God . . . subjected to frustration . . . bondage to decay . . .  groaning . . . struggle . . . this dark world . . . evil. (Genesis 6:5; Romans 3:10-18; Ephesians 6:12)

Perhaps you are so familiar with these verses that it is difficult to see their unflinching realism. But each of these passages is honest about what you and I will encounter as we live in a world that is not operating as it was designed to operate.

The Bible is not only honest in its diagnostic observations, but in graphic, real-life, fallen-world stories as well. You have the shocking account of sibling homicide in Genesis 4, the favorite-son trickery of Rebekah in Genesis 27, and the sibling rivalry in Jacob’s dysfunctional family. You have the dark idolatry of duplicitous Israel so powerfully confronted by the prophets, and the sex, power, and money intrigues of the Kings and Chronicles. The New Testament hits you with the horror of politically motivated infanticide by Herod, the sexually motivated beheading of John, and the perverted justice that leads to the crucifixion of the Messiah.

The history of your Bible drips with the blood of violence. It smells of the stench of human greed, betrayal, and perversion. It is stained with instance after instance of people on the one hand forgetting God, while on the other hand doing their best to take his place. Apart from Christ, none of the people in these stories are moral heroes who always get it right. No, to a person they are flawed.

Abraham (the father of the faithful!) forces his servant girl to have sex with him because he is too impatient to wait any longer for the promised heir. David (the man after God’s own heart!) is so dissatisfied with the glories and vast privileges God has given him that he takes another man’s wife. Then he ends any competition for her by sending her husband to the front lines to die. Peter (a leader among the Twelve!) declares he will follow Jesus anywhere, but soon thereafter, when the public heat is on, he denies with angry curses any knowledge of the Savior.

In both its diagnoses and its descriptions, the Bible is honest about life in a fallen world. This honesty is a sign of God’s love. He is the wise and gentle father preparing his child for that walk through a tough neighborhood on the first day of school. He is the faithful friend praying with you before you face an unusual challenge. He is the caring physician informing you of what to expect from the disease he has just diagnosed.

A primary goal of all this diagnosis, description, warning, comfort, and counsel is to call us to certain ways of living. Why would you need to be “completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love,” (Ephesians 4:2–3) if you were not living in a community of flawed people where this kind of character is essential? Relationships in a fallen world are hard. Ministry to flawed people is fraught with difficulty. Character is needed because the world is broken.

In being honest, the Bible welcomes you to be honest as well. In its refusal to minimize, diminish, or deny the harsh realities of this broken-down house, the Bible calls us to face the facts as well. Things are not okay around us or inside us. The brokenness presses in on every side.

What should we do with all this? Let me suggest five ways to pursue the character qualities to which God calls us, and in that way prepare ourselves to participate more effectively in the great task of restoration.

Determine to be honest. Do not permit yourself to give way to location amnesia. Look the real world squarely in the face. Locate those places in your life where things are not the way they were meant to be and determine, by God’s help, to be a reconciler and a restorer.

Let yourself mourn. If we are honest and look the world in the face, we will be sad at what we see. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mathew 5:4). The condition of the world we live in should make us weep.

Fight to be dissatisfied. I agree with C.S. Lewis that one of the big problems for Christians is not that we are dissatisfied, but that we are far too easily satisfied. We can become so contented with the material sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of the physical world that we lose perspective. But if we are honest, if we mourn to see the broken world around us limping its way into hell, it will make us sick inside.

Be glad. You and I also must fight not to lose our joy and awe. Even as we fully acknowledge this broken world, we must lift our eyes to a greater truth. The Sovereign Creator God has become our Savior, and through him we are the beloved adopted children of God the Father. We must require ourselves to celebrate this every day, for all of this is the result of his grace. We must remind ourselves that Emmanuel is with us wherever we are, and in the middle of whatever we are facing.

Live with anticipation. We must recall again and again that this broken home is not our permanent address. By an extraordinary act of God’s grace, all his blood-bought children are guaranteed to be part of a much better neighborhood. Someday we will all live in the New Jerusalem on a street called Shalom, where brokenness will be no more.

Excerpted from Broken-Down House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad by Paul David Tripp

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