“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.”–Romans 15:4
I’ve been spending a lot of time with the prophets lately and finding them strangely comforting. Something about their unwavering confidence to speak God’s word has been a stabilizing force in the fierce worldly winds. The phrase “This is the Lord’s declaration” is repeated throughout the CSV translation of Zechariah, as if to say “Listen up people. God has something to say and this is it!” Surveying the state of the world, I think we all long to know God has something to say.
Yet it is more than dogmatism that is appealing (for certainly we have had our fill of dogmatism). What is comforting is not only the confidence, but also the truth of their message. The prophets speak directly to the painful realities of life, but they also shine a piercing light of hope in the darkness.
Zechariah tells us: “For the idols speak falsehood, and the diviners see illusions; they relate empty dreams and offer empty comfort” (10:2). At Christmas time, it is easy to see the world grasping at false comforts whether it’s collecting more and bigger gifts under the tree or creating a perfect Christmas vignette for Instagram. However, there is another type of false comfort proffered during the “season of giving” when we are asked to find the necessary goodwill to make the world better. We are encouraged to “Just be kind,” “Be the change,” or “Let peace begin with me.” Such calls are certainly not ignoble, but they always ring a bit hollow to my ears. I think it is because in our heart of hearts we know that we do not have the capacity for the kindness or love which is required for true healing. We cannot make sense of the darkness in the world, much less the darkness in our own hearts. Thus, advocating to “just do better” can leave us with a sense of futility or worse, cynicism.
Contrast now Isaiah’s more familiar words: “Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (40:1). These words do provide comfort for they are grounded in truth. The biblical prophets declare truth about the state of the world, the consequences of our sin, the scattering of His people, the emptiness of idols, and His divine & righteous judgment. Yet they also declare the truth of the God of Armies who is also a shepherd, the love and compassion He has for His people, and His ultimate victory over the darkness. We need both the types of truth–truth about what is broken and truth about how is it is redeemed. The declaration of both realities brings hope and, therefore, comfort.
So dear friend, I pray you find some comfort with the prophets.