Warning: smoking cigarettes may cause lung cancer (or any number of other illnesses). Warning: exposure to pornography, gambling, methamphetamines or any other drugs may cause addiction. Warning: road construction ahead. Slow down to 55 mph.
From driving to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we are inundated with warnings, but do any of us take them seriously? We would rather believe that the risks and dangers apply to someone else. Warnings are humbling. They imply that we need to stop engaging in our current pleasure or exchange one set of behaviors for another, and that requires effort.
The ways in which God warns us about our spiritual condition was brought to my attention in Bible teacher Kay Arthur’s “Lord I Want To Know You” study (Waterbrook Press 2000). Arthur takes a brief tour of the Old Testament where she focuses on all the different names God calls Himself to reveal His character.
And so I found myself in Ezekiel, a book I have never read, learning the Hebrew word Shammah, another name the LORD calls Himself, meaning, “the LORD is there” or present. Arthur’s purpose is to spotlight Ezekiel’s repeated warnings to the Israelites to repent of their Babylonian idol worship. The pagan, hedonistic culture was luring them away from God. After three invasions, the Babylonians finally seize Jerusalem, and Ezekiel is written to those Jews who are taken captive into Babylon.
Why didn’t the Jews didn’t listen to Ezekiel? Arthur writes, “It was difficult for God’s people to believe that He would let Jerusalem fall,” (173). The Jews were God’s chosen people. Jerusalem was their city, and indestructible, right? They expected God to come to their aid before they turned away from idol worship. They thought they were exempt from God’s judgment. But the news of Jerusalem’s final destruction, as recorded in Ezekiel 33:21 was about as traumatic and devastating as 9/11 was for Americans.
People rarely listen to prophetic warnings even today, which are usually calling us to repent. Instead we judge modern day prophets as crazy and go about our own business. We’re no different from those ancient Jews in our tendency to stumble into idolatry and fail to obey God’s word. Sometimes we don’t actually realize that we have stumbled in sin. Or we think that just a small amount of “stumbling” into this or that is harmless. It wasn’t until Jerusalem fell that the Israelites realized what they had done and then they were ready to listen to Ezekiel and repent.
Most of us also need major wake-up calls to motivate us to repent. Mine came in the form of a divorce 10 years ago. Much like the Israelites, I expected God to rush to my aid and heal my marriage despite the fact that I ignored warnings of an unhealthy relationship during our engagement. So what if he viewed pornography regularly long before we started dating? Viewing pornography once doesn’t necessarily lead to an addiction, but why take the risk? In his situation, it did.
Warning: lack of consistent flossing may cause plaque build-up. Warning: dehydration during pregnancy may be detrimental to baby. Warning: high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Today I am happily remarried and expecting my first child. “You need to floss every day now, especially when you’re pregnant,” my dentist warned me after spending 15 minutes extracting a large amount of plaque. Oops. Perhaps flossing seems trivial compared to other lifestyle changes and addictions, but at this point in my life, I take all advice, suggestions and warnings seriously.
It is human nature to constantly test our limits, sometimes with the law, our health, and especially God. The speed limit says 70 mph, and we set cruise control at 75 mph. Small children test their parents until they are certain of the acceptable boundaries of behavior. Of course, God is always ready to come to our rescue when we cry out to Him, but sometimes Jerusalem has to fall first. Sometimes the drug addict has to overdose before the realization that help is needed hits.
We disregard so many warnings because we would like to believe we’re indestructible. We don’t like to be told what to do, but keep in mind that God is as equally just as He is merciful. God isn’t an angry, distant Deity, who scowls on all fun and pleasure. Like any loving parent, His warnings are intended to keep us safe, and are an example of His mercy. This means He is patient. Judgment always follows when we refuse to listen and repent.
God still speaks clearly and accurately through the Bible, preachers, teachers and concerned friends. If we are unwilling to make a change, what are we avoiding? What would it take for God to get your attention?