Monthly Letter – March 2019

Dear Friends

You’ll not have heard of the lady, but poor Danielle Monaghan got a bit of a fright the other day. Out on a family day trip to Belfast zoo, what did she find but a real live chimpanzee parading down the path in front of her.

Indeed the footage of this startling event which was then posted on social media showed a little girl clearly risking upping the ante a bit when she shouted out, “Don’t escape, you bad little gorilla!” Like a gorilla, chimp or even an orang-utang is going to pay much heed to a little child like that and immediately say “Oh, I’m so sorry”!

We can well excuse a girl her size for thinking a chimpanzee is as good as a wanna-be gorilla: she certainly grasped that it’s a bad and worrying sign when beasts whose home is the jungle escape from their safe enclosures and start prowling around our streets.

Nor, it would seem, was this an isolated incident. A few weeks prior to the little chimp’s scary jailbreak, a runaway red panda cub had also breached its confinement and made itself quite at home in a local garden.

These things happen. I know. Nothing to worry about at all, we’re assured. As the zoo-keeper quickly explained – “They … know they’re not supposed to be out of their enclosure, so got back in themselves.” Like the good little boys and girls they are. Of course.

But it did leave me wondering if this was not somehow a sign to our society, a gentle, timely warning of the dangers which await us if we keep on treading down the path on which we’re set.

Are we perhaps under God not meant to be seeing that the jungle drums are beating and the ‘beasts of the jungle’ are somehow now being mobilized? Because I heard of poor Danielle’s adventure, and I saw the video footage of the incident, on the back of our reading together one Sunday night that sobering little episode on the outskirts of the ancient town of Bethel when Elisha invoked the curse of God on the town’s collected yobbos: and out from the woods came two big bears and mauled no less than 42 of these brash and disdainful young lads.

That sort of story simply doesn’t go down all that well today, does it? What a nasty little man the prophet must surely have been, our politically correct contemporaries are bound to retort. They’d have had the prophet cuffed and put in prison in a trice today.

But the man knew his business. And his Bible. Including the book of Leviticus. And a good job too that he hadn’t succumbed to temptation and skipped this part of God’s Scriptures. He knew the score. He knew what the Lord had flagged up for His people in advance, for precisely such times as he lived in.

“If you remain hostile towards me and refuse to listen to me,” the Lord had said, “I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted… “ (Lev.26.21f)

Tough love. The Bible isn’t kidology: God means what He says. This sort of provision, however uncomfortable some today may feel it to be – this sort of provision was actually a covenant mercy. Really.

Shocking, says society: absolutely shocking!

Well, yes. Exactly that, a deliberate shock to the system: in much the same way as that high-pitched screech of your smoke alarm (which is often so hard to switch off!) is meant to grab your attention and shock you out of any tired complacency, and recognize the danger that you’re in.

The Bethel bears, trundling out of the woods at the prophet’s behest (and there were only two, remember: what a genuine mercy it was that there weren’t any more!) – these Bethel bears were a shocking sort of smoke alarm designed to wake a wayward nation up and help them see how dangerous was their arrogant defiance of the living God, their radical dispensing with their biblical roots.

It was graphic stuff. For them: and for us. For the Bethel bears are maybe not all that different from the Belfast beasts – we’re back to the chimp and the red panda cub breaking free from their wooded confinement in Belfast zoo and running amok on the road.

A ‘sign’, a dramatic and graphic visual aid. If you won’t have Jesus’ law, then it’s the law and the life of the jungle you’ve chosen to have. That’s always the bottom-line choice. It’s Jesus’ law, or jungle law.

And to that people back then in the northern kingdom of Israel who’d so disdainfully torn up His script, dispensed with His Word, and removed those solid foundations He had graciously given – well, it’s like the Lord was politely saying to that people – ‘Have a taste then, now, of the life of the jungle, and see what the law of the jungle is like: you really want that?’

Because that’s what always happens. Remove those biblical roots which tie a people’s living to the safety of the Word of God, and you remove as well the restraints which keep the ‘beasts of the jungle’ at bay: there’s a frightening sort of ‘gravitational pull’ in the spiritual realm, which rapidly sees us spiraling back to the darkness, void and chaos which God’s great creative genius first addressed.

There’s the bizarre and bewildering chaos of the increasingly a-moral quagmire which our restless, rootless culture has created as the playground for its self-indulgent life.

There’s the ‘emptiness’ which so many experience today in lives devoid of meaning, purpose and point – an emptiness which they try to fill with any number of things which invariably all evaporate and leave them feeling emptier now than ever.

There’s the darkness, too, which has come upon our land: the dark and suffocating smoke from the braziers into which, with contemptuous defiance, the truths of God’s Word have been thrown: the dark, depressing clouds of fear and of foreboding, spewing out from the chimneys of the factories of secular thought, as the social, political, and even the environmental, fabric of society seems to be now falling apart at the seams.

Remove the biblical roots on which our society’s long since been built … and (perhaps unwittingly) we remove the restraints as well. A society gets sucked back very quickly to the Genesis 1.2 state, where our only hope is found at the end of that verse – “and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

This land in which we live has been singularly blessed by God in His grace over countless generations. Perhaps few if any countries in the world have known such grace, so often, over such a long period of time.

Think back to those days, far back across the centuries, when first Ninian, then more remarkably still Columba, brought the message of the gospel to our land, and you’ll get some sense of just how extensive, in a temporal sense, has been God’s gracious dealings with our land.

Consider the spiritual ‘giants’ whom again and again the Lord has  been pleased in His mercy to raise up – men and women whose love for the Lord, focused as it always was emphatically on God’s Son and rooted as it ever was so confidently in God’s Word – consider the lengthy catalogue of spiritual giants who bestrode this land across the passing generations and see the lasting impact of their Spirit-powered zeal for Jesus Christ, as every single facet of our nation’s life was forged and shaped in the truths of holy Scripture: law and education; family life and politics – all the major institutions of our national life were deliberately and thoroughly rooted in the Word of God.

Little wonder that, across so many centuries (really from the time of Columba and his missionaries onwards), the influence for good upon the nations of the world in virtually every sphere of life – the influence of this small and sparsely populated nation at the far-out western fringes of the continent has been entirely out of all proportion to its size.

Our roots went deep, far down in the rich, nutritious soil of Scriptural truth.

Our history has been checkered, that’s for sure: and there are, without a doubt, all sorts of flaws in the psyche of our nation’s life. But notwithstanding that, those roots always served as a gracious restraint, preventing the erosion which would leave our land a barren, desert wasteland in the purposes of God.

The architects of Babel, though, have marched into our nation’s life: avant-garde and arrogant, with axes in their hands, they’ve stormed the country’s citadels of power and brought their diggers in to hack away, and do away with, all those ancient roots, and build instead across our land a replica of Babel once again.

Jesus’ law is ousted. The jungle law of Judges takes its place. “Everyone did as they saw fit.”

And the bears of Bethel come out of the wood. The chimps and the pandas start roaming the street. And the Lord starts asking the question thereby – ’Here’s a little taster for you all: is it really the jungle you want?’

Welcome to Scotland 2019! Dark, chaotic and empty.

Is it too much to hope, is it too late to hope, that, in the riches of His mercy, the Spirit of God may still be thus ‘hovering over the waters’? For if He is, then surely what crying need there is in these days for the people of God, above all else, to be urgent and earnest in prayer – and yes, a crying need, crying out for the mercy of God to be shown once again in a fresh and mighty moving of His Spirit, and for the gracious, saving power of His Word to be released once more in re-creative grace.

Yours in the service of Christ our Lord and Saviour,

Jeremy Middleton