Hugh Baker looks to the Courtroom beyond
IF YOU have read the Book of Job from one end to the other without pause, you have my admiration. Perhaps one should not say this about the Word of God, but the interminable speechifyings of Bildad, Zophar and Co, though they contain gems to be mined, are somewhat tedious.
At either end of the book, divided by thirty chapters of inter-faith discussion and bilateral conversations, the curtain is pulled back on what is going on behind the scenes. We are taken in to what is permanent, and more real than what I see and sense before me now. A peek into the Throne Room of God confirms what we find elsewhere in Scripture; that the Devil and his minions cannot see into our minds. At various points in his Word, God makes it clear that he can read our inner selves like a book. `The Lord saw … that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.’ (Genesis 6.5) `Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16.7) and so on.
Out of bounds
Unlike God, the Devil and his friends have, like us, to work out what is going on under human surfaces. At the book’s beginning, when asked what he has been up to, he replies `Roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it’ (Job 1.7). This figure of speech (the commentators tell us) is a Satanic boast. To `go back and forth’ is to walk somewhere without hindrance, namely, to stroll at ease through your own possession. `It’s all mine, God! There’s nowhere I cannot go! I own it all! You have lost it totally!’ So he crows.
There is, God knows, one place Satan cannot stroll into as he will. `Have you considered my servant, Job?’ God then announces something the Devil cannot know: Job’s inner condition. `He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil’ (Job 1.8).
Is this true? Or is God so hard pressed by the enemy that he has had to renege on his own character, and resort to lying and bluff? If it can be shown that God has betrayed himself, and is indeed no greater than Satan, what rejoicing there will be in the Halls of Darkness! So the battle begins, and at its
end God is shown to be true to himself, and Job is replaced in a position of wealth and honour.
In dealing with you and me, our Enemy faces the same limitations as he did in dealing with Job. He can indeed `lead us into temptation’, and there is no disgrace in being tempted; it is part and parcel of living in a fallen world. Hebrews 4.15 reminds us `we have [a high priest] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin.’ Our enemy has no hold over us if our temptations do not lead us to speak or act amiss, however powerful our inner imaginings may be.
Being unable to see inside us, he can only accuse us before God’s throne (and thus rob us of what we have been given in Christ) if he can report something he has heard or seen. Thus, Christ’s warning about what passes our lips, `I tell you that men will have to account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken’ (Matthew 12.36). For the sake of the health and effectiveness in battle of the Church, the Scriptures also lay down behaviour which God’s fellowship must not tolerate. Anyone engaging openly or covertly in identifiable sin, be it financial, sexual or whatever, would open an avenue into the Church’s heart. Their continued presence could not be tolerated.
Imagine, if you will, the length of Job’s negotiations had they taken place in our own secretarially reinforced days. The composite motions! The Orders in Synod! The appeals to listen to one another, for Temanite-Shuhite unity! Such would be the prolixity of Job that those funny little supernatural bits at each end had better be cut out altogether. Indeed, such would be concentration on reaching some kind of consensus that if, by chapter 153, a vacancy arose (to cite just one example of a number) for a Suffragan Chief Rabbi for the Readingites, it may seem a good wheeze to make an appointment which would demonstrate what open minded, accommodating people we are.
The Church, quite rightly, welcomes anyone and everyone under its wing. In so doing, it invites every one of us to join a body whose life is shaped by a specific supernatural world view, which society around us has lost hold of. Unable to look any further than itself, society tells us that self-gratification is not only desirable but psychologically healthy. If you do not go with the flow of your hormones, you will end up weird, bent and `repressed’.
A church which tries to appease this outlook is a church which deserves to be ignored, for it offers no alternative, no hope, to the thousands of our fellow citizens who are becoming entrapped in their own flesh. At a time when the Bishop of Oxford tells us that we need more of the feminine within the Church, we are actually in dire need of the masculine: we need fearless, prophetic voices which will call sin sin, and urge God’s people to show the world what holy living is.
I write this with the Affaire John receding into the distance, and the more climactic New Hampshire saga about to unfold. Having never, to the best of my knowledge, had a homosexual feeling in my life (though I must own up to plenty of heterosexual ones) I hesitate to comment too specifically on these matters. Let me place on record, however, my gratitude to those who (for whatever reason) have lived lives of abstinence, and given decades of dedicated service in the Gospel to dark comers of our cities which wife-and-two-point-four-children types like myself would hesitate to visit, never mind live in.
If their lives do not betray God in word or deed, our Enemy, being unable to read their souls, cannot touch them. If the day comes, however, when the Church proposes to appoint to a senior position someone who has not only divorced his wife and left his children but also engaged in open homosexual practice, then (unless he has publicly repented both of the practice and its advocacy with such finality that we can be sure of his sincerity and forgiveness before God), be sure that the Church is now so tied up in its own affairs and politics that it has lost all knowledge of The Courtroom Above.
It may seem a remote, irrelevant, outdated place to many of our chief pastors today; but we will find, maybe at the cost of our demise, that it is the place where the real business is done.
Hugh Baker tries to be aware of what is really happening in south Staffordshire.