The Vision and Voice of God in the 21st Century
A Speech By
In 1990-1991 when the Soviet Union began to break up and Eastern European countries were gaining independence, many in the West, especially in the United States, looked at it only as the end of the Cold War. The primary attitude was political freedom had arrived and all is well in Eastern European countries. I am sure that Latvians realize, much more than I do, that freedom is more than just political liberation. It is true that political freedom also brings a degree of economic and religious freedom; but it does not automatically bring inner freedom. Inner freedom is freedom from ideology of the past; it is a spiritual freedom that changes what we are and the way we live; inner freedom is learning to live apart from the atheistic ideology that enslaves the mind.
Dr. Paul Zulehner, Professor of Pastoral Theology at the University of Vienna did extensive research on the subject of God after Communism. His research involved 10 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. In his research he said it is a question of "unlearning what was learned during the communist years." One of the things that must be un-learned is the lack of trust in the Church, which translates to a lack of trust in God.
Zulehner said that the areas of Europe formerly controlled by communism carry an overwhelming spiritual burden and wounds that are still raw. This inner rawness is expressed in dysfunctional families, alcoholic fathers, missing generations in church. We see it in the exclusion of the socially marginalized and the poor; we feel it in the bitterness and frustrations that hold people back from realizing their full potential.
Unlearning what was previously learned is more than just an intellectual exercise; it goes beyond the adoption of a democratic form of government, and an embracement of capitalism. Unlearning the past is only the first step. We must replace the old with something new, i.e. Biblical truth which changes behavior. This is not an intellectual exercise but a spiritual encounter. What removes the past is new truth that forces out the old. What Thomas Chalmers described as the "expulsive power of a new affection." Hearing the voice of God and having faith in Jesus Christ fills us with a new power that forces out the false and atheistic ideologies of the past.
I propose to you today that we must hear the voice of God in the 21st century. We know there are many confusing voices in the world today and each claim to have the answer to all the ills of society. All are trying to deal with various social, political, and emotional problems. In one sense this goes back to the Enlightenment, the beginning of the modern era. The Enlightenment elevated the individual to the center of the world. The goal was to unlock the secrets of the universe in order to master nature for human benefit and therefore create a better world. This led to the characteristic of the twentieth century, which sought to improve human life through reason and technology. It was an optimistic outlook, which led the belief that progress is inevitable; that science coupled with the power of education will eventually free us from our all-social bondage.
Today, however, we are seeing a shift from the modern to the post modern era. Post moderns replace the optimism of the last century with a gnawing pessimism. Gone is the belief that we are getting better and better. There is no longer confidence that we will solve the world's great problems. Voices today view life on earth as fragile. Unfortunately, the post moderns also no longer accept the absolutes of right and wrong. Postmodern thinkers have given up the search for universal truth because they believe there is nothing but a host of confusing voices. For the first time in recent history the emerging generation does not share the conviction of others that the world is becoming a better place to live. The search for Utopia on earth is no longer a valid option. Technology brings not only the possibility of good but also the possibility of evil. We need only to look to the splitting of the atom. This discovery opened the door to a nuclear Armageddon and a whole new kind of non-disposable waste. We can only wonder what will result from research of the human genetic structure. 1
So we hear these various confusing voices today. However, I suggest today, that we need to hear only one voice...the voice of God speaking to the masses of humanity. His word is true, it is faithful, it will not fail, it will bring results, it will bring change to the inner person, thus it will change the way we live in the world.
Today when we speak of the voice of God we immediately think of the Scripture. But God was speaking to men and women long before the Bible was written. God has always been seeking and speaking to the human heart. He revealed himself by the spoken word. How often do we read the words "and God said unto..." Abraham, David, and others.
We feel the power of the prophets when they thundered, "Thus saith the Lord;" God was revealing himself through His spoken word.
Words are how we communicate. We encounter one another with words. Words are the conduits for fellowship. God has been revealing himself from the very beginning of time with words. The problem has been that we have not been listening and we have not heard the voice of God in our midst. It is interesting to see the number of times we read of "the face of God." In Genesis when man fell, it says he hid himself from the "face" of God. Cain, after murdering his brother and under the curse, spoke of having been driven from the "face" of God. Throughout the Psalms we hear the prayer, "do not hide your face from me." Someone said that man's ultimate and deepest loss is the lost face of God. Yet when God revealed himself as Redeemer he told Moses to pronounce upon them a blessing... "The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace." In this context, Emil Brunner, compares God in the act of revealing himself to a "tall man who stoops down to a little child and lowers himself on his knee, so that the child may look into his face." 2 When we hear God's word we see the face of God.
In time the spoken word became the written Word of the Old and New Testament. Today we refer to the Bible as the Word, or the voice of God. The full impacts of the voice of God comes to us in the Gospel of John, where John said, "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God..." Then in the 14th verse we have the amazing statement, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Here the Word of God is embodied in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the revelation of God. God has spoken to us by His Son. With these words John is saying that God himself has entered the stream of human history in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Word of God and He reveals the face of God to us.
This is the voice we need to hear today. The Incarnate Word revealed in the written Word and communicated through the spoken Word.
Thus the voice of God, the revelation of God, the vision of God to human hearts today is the Scripture. The Scriptures give us this validation. Some will surely raise the objection that we should not appeal to Scripture for its own vindication. To quote Scripture in support of Scripture seems to be arguing in a circle. Shouldn't we go outside of the Bible to prove that the Bible is the Word of God? Twentieth-century Evangelical Scholars have devoted much energy in trying to demonstrate the credibility of the Christian faith with appeals to proofs for the existence of God, the trustworthiness of the Bible and the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. However, we must approach the Word of God with faith not with attempts of proof...Hebrews 11:6 "Without faith it is impossible to please God for he that comes to God must believe He is and He reveals Himself to those who diligently seek Him."
We cannot prove God exists, although the Bible says we see evidence of it, and on the other hand we cannot prove that He does not exist. The Revelation of God, His vision and His voice must be accepted by faith and when this is done, the Word of God brings powerful life-changing truth into a human life.
The power of God's Word is seen in various ways. Let me speak of what the Bible says about God's voice, and what it does for us.
Proverbs 29:18 "Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint." Here is what happens when we do not hear the voice of God.
Revelation is God's voice, His Word spoken to us through the Incarnate Christ. Where this voice is not heard and experienced people cast off restraint...The author is speaking of confusion, of people being ungovernable, unbridled, where there are no bonds holding society together. We could define it as lawlessness, violence, turmoil and difficulty.
This verse also speaks to the individual and the family levels. People are hurting, feeling isolated, experiencing inner discord. Instead of inner peace and rest, there are tensions and strife. Many cannot cope and turn to alcohol and drugs or other things that help them escape the emptiness and meaninglessness of life.
Where there is no revelation from God, or when the word of God does not reach the human heart...there is no restraint, and people live empty and meaningless lives.
Let us look at a more positive passage in Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper then any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight." God's word is not the voice of man. It is alive, effectual and self-fulfilling. It diagnoses the human heart. It says, you hurt here, and here. It is able to reach the deepest and innermost recesses of the human heart. It brings blessings to those who receive it in faith. The accumulated terms in this passage express the positive power of God's Word when it touches our life. We may conceal our inner being from our family, friends and neighbors; we can even deceive ourselves, but nothing can escape the scrutiny of God's Word. The voice of God fulfills the purpose for which it was written. Isaiah 55:10-11 supports this: "as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater…so is my word that goes our from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
The third passage is in II Timothy 3:16 "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
What is St. Paul saying here? That the word and voice of God is not only profitable for spiritual understanding and growth, but for training in righteousness, i.e. ethical behavior; right living; integrity; what sound advice for today's world that denies the absolutes of right and wrong. He also says that the word of God equips us for every good work...here he speaks of our activity, our life's purpose and goals. God's Word enables us to meet all demands in life and prepares us for a life of profitable service, not only for the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but also for serving the social and material needs of people.
Here is one of the goals of the Latvian Christian Academy. Preparing young people to take their place in the "public square"; preparing them to be the word of God to all they meet. It is rewarding to hear of students working with the mentally retarded, children in orphanages, and other socially disadvantaged groups.
The Center for Biblical Studies
All of what I have said thus far leads me to my final point and it is in the form of an announcement. The Shuv Institute of Seattle, Washington, in partnership with the Latvian Christian Academy, will assist in the establishing of, A Center for Biblical Studies as part of the Latvian Christian Academy. Initially, I suggested the name An Institute of Biblical Studies, but center is what this is all about.
A center is a place of concentrated activity; service and influence. A Center also means a middle position, neither to the left nor to the right. Thus, A Center for Biblical Studies will avoid, on the one hand, the weak liberal theology which promotes the ethical teachings of Jesus but not the inner power of the resurrected Christ and on the other hand, the extremist view, which denies the need for biblical scholarship. The word center also means "having a focus, a center." This compels us to stand firmly against the skepticism and pessimism of postmodernism thinkers who complain about the loss of a center in society.
When we put these meanings together, The Center for Biblical Studies will be a concentrated, influential study of the Bible, which avoids the extremes and promotes the need for biblical scholarship in modern day Latvia. This center will not only focus on students, but also on pastors and the Christian community.
Why a Center for Biblical Studies?
Why not a center for Christian ethics to bring about behavioral change; or a center for social responsibility to bring about needed social reform? These also are important themes. However, a proper understanding of biblical truths will accomplish what these other disciplines cannot bring.
The Goal of the Center for Biblical Studies will:
We cannot continue to bring in people from other countries for short periods of time to teach Latvian young people. We need to develop Latvians to fill the need for biblical and theological scholarship.
On December 8th we had a great time celebrating Skaidrite's birthday. In the midst of fun, laughter and food, Skaidrite pointed to the group of young men and women who are working on their Master's degrees. I needed no translation for what she said. She pointed to these young people and said, "here is the future of the Latvian Christian Academy, the future rector, pro-rector, and professors." She is right.
My work for most of 2002 will be developing this Center for Biblical Studies. With the Academy's help and counsel we will develop an intensive curriculum that will accomplish this goal. The Shuv Institute is committed to raise the needed funds for this project. A Center for Biblical Studies will challenge students to develop their God-given gifts and to use them for the glory of God and for the future of Latvia.
What Latvia needs is for its graduates to display integrity, honesty, compassion, mercy, and love. They need to lift up the fallen, the disenfranchised, and those excluded from the quality of life. Being a Christian is more than just singing about "being bound for the Promised Land." It is living our lives in such a way that it shows forth the Incarnate Word of God to those all around us.
Thank you again for this great honor. God bless you, God bless the Latvian Christian Academy and may God bless the nation of Latvia through the young people who graduate and take their Christian voice and the voice of God into the "public square."
1 S. J. Grenz, A Primer of Postmodernism, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1996) 1-8
2 P. K. Jewett, "Special Revelation as Historical and Personal," The Bible and Revelation, C. F. Henry, ed. 1958, 52, 66