I was suggesting last week that the Bible is not written from an alien, different world, but addresses the world we live in. But there is something that stands as a divide between us and the Bible; something that prevents us from grasping hold of the Scriptures and applying them rightly to our lives.
It’s there in Hebrews 3 and 4, that majestic passage about the piercing clarity and contemporaneity of God’s Word. The problem for the author of Hebrews is not that the word of God is somehow closed off to his readers, or shrouded by the mists of time or culture.
The problem they face is far more severe and insidious. It’s the problem that Israel succumbed to in the desert, and because of which they failed to enter God’s rest. It’s the problem that the first century readers of Hebrews faced, and that we face to the same extent today.
The problem is the deadening effect of unbelief and sin. “Take care, brothers”, says the author of Hebrews, “lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).
There is a an interplay here between unbelief (that is, a lack of trust in God’s Word) and sin (rebellion against God and his Word) and hard-heartedness (the stubborn, irrational ignoring of God and his Word).
We fail to trust that what God says is really true and for our good, and fall for the deceitful proposition put forward by Sin—that we really know better, and that we should go our own way. And so we do, and then find that our heart starts to skin over and become steadily more resistant to God and his Word. And so we distrust his Word further, and rebel against him again, and so the cycle continues.
This is true in our experience—when we give up praying; or when we yield to the deceitful temptations of lust and pornography; or when we spend our time in the loveless pursuit of our own pastimes and pleasures. Whenever sin deceives us into distrusting the truth and goodness of God’s word, we find ourselves in a slow death spiral of unbelief, rebellion and increasing hardness. Sermons wash over us like musak in a department store. We open the Bible on our bedside table only to close it again after a few minutes, not really sure what we’re reading or why. We start to find reasons why we can’t make it to Bible Study this week. And on it goes.
The problem is not intellectual. We haven’t suddenly figured out some reason why the Bible is less trustworthy, or why the resurrection didn’t happen. Nor is the problem created by differences in language and culture between us and God’s Word.
The problem is sclerosis of the heart.
The antidote, in Hebrews 3, is to recognize the danger, to take care, and to keep up a daily diet of mutual exhortation and encouragement.