This is the first post in a three part series on how to biblically engage culture. Check back next Monday for part two.
Have you ever tried a ‘Where’s Wally’ puzzle? (Or Where’s Waldo for our American readers).
They are both addictive and infuriating at the same time. Trying to find the guy in blue trousers, red and white striped jumper, red and white striped hat, and a brown satchel in amongst the hundreds of other people and all the background scenery is almost impossible. Yet, you don’t want to be beaten by it so you keep staring at the page until Wally appears.
I have a concern – not a concern about Wally, but a concern that many Christians and Churches are like Wally. I have a concern that just like Wally, many Christians are hard to see in their surroundings. Instead of standing alone, or standing out, we are happy to blend in with all the people round about us.
Recently, my personal Bible readings coincided with a talk I was to give at a school SU. My Bible readings were in Genesis and the SU asked me to talk about Noah, the man who stood alone. I was struck by one thing in my reading and meditation – Noah was a man who stood alone; he stood alone among his people and he stood alone because he was obedient.
Genesis 6, where we are first introduced to Noah, begins with God being ‘sorry that he had made man’ (v. 6 ESV). This sorrow was because of man’s wickedness and evil, and as a result God pronounced judgement on them. That judgement was a flood.
Surprisingly though, in the midst of this wickedness and evil we read this in verse 8: ‘Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD’ (ESV). That is, he found grace. Noah is then described in glowing terms rarely used in reference to people throughout Scripture. He is described as righteous, blameless in his generation and walking with God (v. 9). Interestingly, the phrase ‘blameless in his generation’ could legitimately be translated as stood alone among his people.
Chapter 6 continues with God giving Noah very specific requests (vv. 13-21). Then in verse 22 we read ‘Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him’ (ESV). This isn’t only repeated once, but again and again (7:5; 9; 16; 8:15-19 implied). All God commanded Noah, he did.
Noah was incredibly obedient.
And it doesn’t stop in Genesis, jumping to Hebrews 11 we read ‘By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household’ (v. 7 ESV). Noah was told of things unseen, but having faith (or the conviction of things not seen v. 1) he was obedient to God and constructed the ark he was commanded to build.
Noah truly was a man who stood alone. A ‘Where’s Noah’ puzzle book wouldn’t be anywhere near as difficult as a ‘Where’s Wally’ puzzle book.
Obedience is a much maligned term in ‘modern Christianity’. In a reaction to withdrawing from the surrounding culture too much (a mistake made by previous generations of Christians), some Christians and Churches have become so involved in their surrounding culture as to be almost indistinguishable from it. They no longer stand alone.
However, we must be careful not to hold Noah up too high as our example of obedience. Noah was not perfect – there is a sordid account of drunkenness, nakedness and gossip in Genesis 9 (vv. 20-27). In addition to that Noah was not totally alone. Throughout God was with him commanding him, and alongside him stood his family.
Even Hebrews 11 makes this warning, because after telling us all about the men of faith throughout Israel’s history the author proceeds to tell us to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who endured the cross (12:1-2). He is the only one whose obedience never failed and who truly stood alone as on the cross he cried ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ and God was silent (Mk. 15:34 ESV).
As Mark makes clear throughout his Gospel Jesus is the supreme example of obedience for his disciples, the one who forsook all to obey his Father. Yet, Mark is also careful to tell us that he is not only our example, but also our Saviour (10:45).
So, there is my concern and there is the remedy.
I have a concern that Christians and the Church are becoming a lot like Wally – blending into their surroundings. What’s the remedy? Obedience. There is no better way to stand alone in our culture than to obey God. We do this certainly by looking to fellow saints like Noah, but ultimately we do this by looking to Jesus our supreme example and our glorious Saviour.