I’m doing what I call a Skible study right now. A friend and I decided to study Revelation together a while back—before we knew my husband would be accepting a position as youth director at a church in another city. The job and the move have been good and exciting, but they kinda put a damper on our Bible study plans. There’s about sixty miles between us now—too far for two mommas with young kids to feasibly meet together on a regular basis.
Fortunately, my genius friend had a wonderful solution—Skype!
Once a week we connect on Skype and talk over what we’ve read. It’s not quite the same as sitting together by the fireplace in over-sized purple plush chairs at my favorite coffee shop, but it works.
As I was reviewing for our study today, I found a good “note to self” warning at the end of chapter nine.
Revelation 9:20-21 (NASB)
20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; 21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.
Now, by any standards, these people have to be crazy or daft, right? However one understands the book of Revelation, “those who were not killed” have just witnessed the judgment of God in the form of agony, violence, plagues, and death.
How could they just keep on doing what they’re doing?
As I considered this, I was reminded of the frustrating lack of appropriate response to Christ’s miracles.
Matthew 11:20-21 (NASB)
20 Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
Again—crazy or daft. God in the flesh has visited these people and performed miracles in their midst. Why don’t they turn? How can they not see?
It seems that God’s mighty displays of power (terrifying or wonderful) are not enough to capture a heart—unless the heart is willing to be captured.
This is demonstrated time and time again in the history of the nation of Israel, and in the narratives of the gospels. When I read those stories, I am inclined to be incredulous. It just seems impossible to believe that people (corporately or individually) could witness and experience God’s power the way they did and not be utterly convinced that knowing and serving him was the most reasonable and beneficial thing to do.
But when I really think about it, I have to admit that the capacity to reject what is true, right, and good in favor of what is familiar, convenient, or immediately gratifying is not unique to ancient people. Nor is it owing to any extraordinary wickedness or ignorance on their part.
The motives of my heart are a powerful thing, often determining whether or not I will hear God and how quickly I will obey him. I have a million and one ways to justify something that I am motivated to believe or pursue.
I might cry out to God to teach me truth, but if I am more motivated (by pride, comfort, fear, etc.) to see things a certain way, I will never let God tell me anything different on those points.
If I desire to develop honesty and integrity in my life, yet I am more motivated by the immediate benefit of manipulation, cowardice, and compromise, I will undoubtedly find ways to justify those behaviors—and make very little progress.
If I ask God to tell me how he sees me, but I am more motivated by the pleasure of validation from other things, I am not really opening the door for God to shape my identity.
If I tell God to direct my path and use me however he wills, but I am more motivated to maintain certain boundaries and levels of control, I am not really availing myself to him.
If I say I desire to know God, but I am more motivated to find security in figuring out how he works, I will pursue the latter in futility, and do little to facilitate the former.
The ancient Israelites, the Jews at the time of Christ, and the generation of Revelation nine—they’re not really so different than me. It isn’t too difficult to imagine how their stronger motivations led to defensiveness, justification, explanation, warped perception, rebellion, and the tragic rejection of a precious, powerful, and rewarding relationship with God—even in the face of miraculous signs and wonders.
We are living in a fallen world, struggling against a fallen nature, assaulted by a fallen, but powerful and aggressive enemy. The temptation to be motivated by temporary pleasures and comforts and false securities will be constantly before us—but it is not something we need be resigned to.
The very fact that I justify my preference for these things over trusting and following God means that I am aware of and engaging the motives that steer my life. I can be very stubborn about them, but they are not too deep for me to uncover. If I can explain and justify them, I can also confess and repent of them.
The Holy Spirit is more than capable of pointing out areas where I am settling for less than he intends, but it is up to me to respond in trust and surrender. If I want to grow, I must intentionally release and repent of motives that hold me back in my pursuit of God.
God is with us, rooting for us, and offering all the power and help we need—but no sign or miracle will ever convince us to follow him with abandon if he is not what we really want.