I have been led to put my deepest conviction in writing…but still I write it with trembling, and I can only proceed in fear…it is my belief that we have entered upon the age of abandonment…I am sure, of course, that he (God) has not turned away from all, or rather, that he is perhaps present in the life on an individual…but it is from our history, our societies, our cultures, our science and our politics that God is absent. He is keeping quiet…
Jacques Ellul, a French Christian thinker wrote this. He didn’t write it this week. He wrote it in 1972. His personal agony seeps through. I believe that God does give us gifted people like Ellul to interpret our world and articulate insights that many of us ‘feel’ but don’t have the ability or the courage to express. Like the prophets of Israel these are people who feel fiercely and often assault the self-satisfied and self-righteous among even the church going community.
Such prophets are not engaged in predicting the future but in the words one great Jewish thinker they are ‘the exegetes of existence’. They see our world through God’s eyes as it were. They tell it as it truly is. Is it time for that prophetic voice today? Yes, humanity needs comfort and hope but massaging human complacency with banalities and pious clichés is not going to be of true help.
Day by day the Chief Medical and Scientific Advisors come into our homes. Their professionalism and steadiness in the storm is inspiring. Yes, we listen to these men but we should also be tuning into the wider vision of the men who wrote the Bible. Writers who have given insights into earlier times when God seemed to have taken leave. There is the psalmist who felt abandoned, his eyes failing as he searched for God (Psalm69:3). Many such cries punctuate the ancient song book of Israel. There is a whole book of Lamentations traditionally assigned to Jeremiah. Then for over three hundred years there is the wall of silence covered by the blank page between Malachi and Matthew. Surely there’s no deeper sense of abandonment than that of Jesus on the cross and then there’s bitter disappointment of disciples who felt let down by him (Luke 24:21)
Step into the Tardis and travel back in time to anyone of these periods. On stepping out into that earlier age would we feel disquiet and the sense of abandonment? This is not the first time that God has effectively been driven out by his creatures. He may seem absent but according to the scriptures, he has neither absconded nor has he been defeated.
When we stand back and look hard we begin to realise his plan must be viewed under very wide horizons. Those horizons ‘range beyond the span of an individual life, or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era.’ Such a time as this can either drive us into despair or to the exaltation of the One who is master of the big picture.
HOPE IN TIME OF ABANDONMENT, JACQUES ELLUL, pp71-72
GOD IN SEARCH OF MAN, A.J. HESCHEL p75