I've been flicking through the pages of James, 1,2,3 John, 1 and 2 Peter over the past day or two. It is striking how difficult things had become for the believers. People had begun to lose faith in the midst of the persecution they were facing for their beliefs. Others began to lose hope in the return of Jesus as the years passed by. There were individuals who had set themselves up as new leaders who possessed spiritual insight and who claimed special favour from God.
It must have been difficult making sense of the world and of God, especially for believers with a Jewish background who had been raised on stories of God hearing the cries of his people. Yet as the years passed by it would seem that God didn't appear to be acting. How would one make sense of their God? It is easy to see why some would give up hope and lose faith. And in the gap, others emerge playing on the fears of the people offering certaintly. quick fixes and easy answers.
The authors of the letters are keen to provide practical advice and help to encourage believers to continue in their faith. They believed God to be in ultimate control of everything and if they were to endure persecution there must be a cosmic reason why things were the way they were. God was working out his purposes through the difficulties they were facing.
However as past stories of God's intervention lose their power - maybe even seeming irrelevant to the people at the time, the biblical writers turn towards stories of the future. A future of reward for those who endure persecution and punishment for those who cause the difficulties. God sees the plight of the believers. He hears their cries and he will act! (similar to the language of blessing and curses found in deuteronomy - but rather than being immediate it would be delayed until the end of time).
How little things change with time. As the western church makes sense of dwindling numbers and the loss of its influence - we are left asking the same questions. Does God really exist? Does God not see the world and the suffereing of those who live for the gospel? When will God move?
Theres a song called Let Glasgow Flourish. It speaks of a Glasgow falling a part - a city given over to sin and evil. The former places of salvation have even become the places of "entertainment" in these last days. Things have become so bad that the tree no longer grows, the bird no longer flies, the fish no longer swims and the bell no longer rings. Satan is in charge of Glasgow.
The song's offers a way out of the situation we find ourselves in. We just have to return to the motto the city was built upon. "Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of his word and the praising of his name" Do we look for the easy answers and certainty? If we just do X or Y God will move. Pray more intensely - read our Bibles more avidly - avoid earthly pleasures - sing louder and longer - if we just do more then that will fix things. God will be pleased with our efforts and striving. He will bless us.
Do we attempt to grab God's favour? Or do we live in the tension with our questions and uncertainties, trusting in a God bigger than our understanding? Do we take another look at our world, our city and our communities and see afresh the unexpected places where God is moving and working?