As I write this on Wednesday afternoon, our highest leaders in government are considering the second impeachment of President Donald Trump.
“The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” I can’t help but remember the words of the report of his brother as it reached the ears of Nehemiah (1:3). In the very next verse, we read that the prophet did the only thing that he could do in the wake of such devastating news: “I sat down and wept … before the God of heaven.”
What you and I have witnessed over the last few days and weeks will likely disturb us for the foreseeable future. It’s time to weep before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah lived in a similar day. Everyone had contributed to the ruin. (And I’m sure that they were about as quick to own that, personally, as we!) There was much sinful behavior from which to repent. Everybody had disobeyed God, on multiple levels and in multiple ways. And the Lord, with a broken heart, had delivered the people into the hands of their enemies. At that point, the cultural erosion became undeniable and dramatic.
Precisely when a political situation degenerates into full-blown anarchy – in the strictest sense – I’m not exactly sure. But I am convinced, by Scripture and history, that Planet Earth has seen more than enough seasons of moral anarchy: “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The Bible tells the story over and over again. Trouble erupts. The people seek God. God delivers. The people rejoice. The people forget. Trouble erupts. Rinse and repeat.
So Hanani, Nehemiah’s brother, comes back to Babylon – the place of exile – with a burden for Jerusalem that is nearly unbearable for Nehemiah to bear. What Nehemiah does next is exceptionally instructional for us, if we will permit such instruction from God’s Word.
But, before I remind you of what Nehemiah did, I want to share with you some other options which are before us. They’re not good options, mind you, but they’re options.
- We can abandon our distinctions. This feels like the easiest way out of a pickle. We can live according to the spirit of the lawlessness of our day. We can deny any accountability to a transcendent standard. We can embrace moral apathy. We can pretend that right and wrong are simply meaningless words and relative designations. We can declare that truth can’t be known or even found. We can become just like the unbelieving world around us. We’ll fit right in, like a hand in a glove.
- We can abandon our responsibilities. This is a slightly different option, in the sense that we care – we can still get worked up by the newsfeeds on our phone – but we don’t do anything about anything. We just gripe and complain, and moan and groan, and chime in when the finger-pointing gets all hot and heavy. (Like now.) This is what you call throwing up your hands in utter defeat, for all practical purposes. Cheap talk. No action. No salt. No light. (Those are just too much trouble.)
- We can abandon our convictions. After all, this God-thing doesn’t seem to be working out too well. Let’s just make man the measure of all things. That’s easier anyway. We’ll solve the world’s problems by human achievement, and by the incredible power of human reasoning – and human rationale. We’ll fix America by decreasing joblessness, and restriping our roadways, and inventing the next best smartphone. It’ll all be great. Just wait and see. We’ll bypass “we can’t consider God,” and go all the way to “there ain’t no God to consider.”
I think you can see that those three options aren’t so swell. We’ve tried them before, and they’ll work next time about as well as they worked last time.
Or … wait for it … we can abandon ourselves. That’s what Nehemiah did, and that’s what he led God’s people to do. Between “trouble erupts” and “the people seek God,” there is always a moment of “the people come to the end of themselves.” Friends, we ought not expect such a moment in our country, unless and until such a moment captures the church. Repentance always begins at home. And this time will be no exception.
Nehemiah fasted and prayed. Nehemiah listened for the promptings of the Holy Spirit so that he could keep his head on straight in a crooked generation. Nehemiah sought the Word of the living God and humbled himself before it. Risking his own life, Nehemiah laid down his plans and picked up God’s.
And one of the greatest nationwide revivals in global history was poured out upon a broken people. Who can do this? Only God. Only God. Only God. But you and I can hope, and pray, for this. Here. Now. God.
With a heavy heart, I hope.