Our generation is the generation of the knee jerk reaction. If a previous generation did something we now find abhorrent we knee jerk react against it. We don’t forgive we condemn. We don’t show grace we go to the opposite extreme so there is no way anyone could accuse us of thinking or acting like that!
As I prepared for Zechariah 1-2 last week I was struck by the difference in the reaction of the people of Zechariah’s day in Zechariah 1v1-6. Zechariah, as God’s prophet, confronts God’s people with a need to return, calling them not to be like their ancestors who sinned and ignored God’s warnings. That generation listened and responded not by condemnation of their ancestors, not by knee jerk, but by repentance. They see their ancestors failings and repent of them, why? Because they recognise the echo of their own hearts in their ancestors actions.
They know that they are not more enlightened than the previous generations. They haven’t bought into the mythical idea of social progress – that everything is always getting better. They know that their hearts are no different, that they are prone to the same mistakes and sins and so they don’t condemn and knee jerk, they hear and repent.
I was struck by how that speaks so powerfully to our own day. Our society is quick to judge and condemn actions of previous generations, and some of those actions do need condemning – sometimes in the church we’ve been too slow to condemn sin. But we fall short. We stop there. Or alternately we knee jerk and go to the opposite extreme. But God calls us to see the need for us to stop, to hear his word, to recognise the echo of our own hearts and sin in the action of previous generations. I am, we are, no different.
In a society that can only condemn or react by going to an opposite extreme we must stand out and be different. We see and call out sin for what it is – not as viewed by culture but as God reveals it. We mourn and repent of the sins of previous generations, but not in a smug way that suggests we’re any better, but recognising that it reveals our ow hearts, our tendency to be blinded by our cultural moment to bigger gospel issues. And we apply the beautiful gospel of freedom and forgiveness and transformation. In the bleak barren darkness of a society that has no grace or forgiveness to offer how brightly the churches should shine as we hold out and live out the gospel not of the knee jerk but of sin identified, mourned, repented of, and turned from.