Part of the power of contemporary secularism is that it feels like a modern faith meta-narrative that provides an answer to all other faith perspectives. According to Paul’s devastating analysis, truth is the only remedy to futile thinking, darkened understanding and alienation from the life of God that derive from ignorance and hardening hearts – and lead to indulgent sensuality (Eph 4:17-20).
Nevertheless, we should not underestimate the attractiveness of truth. Even Matthew Parris writing about his childhood acknowledged (Times 28 December 2008), ’Christians were always different… They stood tall. Now a confirmed atheist, I have become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes… Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real’.
I particularly like the example of Baruch, not the US President but a namesake from 2600 years ago, an outstanding research assistant and devoted secretary of Jeremiah. Jeremiah and Baruch became determined to oppose those who wanted to fight against the terrifying Babylonian superpower that threatened his nation. He knew that arguing for a bloodless surrender would be regarded as treason even though a negotiated settlement would be less destructive than wholesale slaughter and exile. But God had spoken to him and God’s truth had to be revealed even to stubborn political leaders.
Few political programs can proceed unless they are upbeat. So Jeremiah was put under house-arrest for airing his views. Baruch then came to the fore. Truth cannot be arrested. Baruch recorded and then read out Jeremiah’s improbable message in public. What enabled Baruch to state and restate truth in such pressured circumstances?
One clue concerned his ability to anchor two chains of truth – one, revealed truth in Scripture; the other, declared truth to society. This ensured he was not tossed about by the fashions of his day. Truth is indestructible. It originates in God’s heart. It is revealed to human minds. We can listen and respond. We can trash it through the instruments of scholarship or force. These two vitally important chains clamped Baruch’s testimony, one to heaven – the other to earth.
The first chain was God’s revelation; the second was Baruch’s declaration. The first is part of an indestructible chain in eternity that threads through human life. It is a word that is revealed, then spoken, then written, then preserved and then performed. This truth, the living Word, is eternal and is embodied in Jesus, wholly divine and wholly human. Through this chain truth becomes the written Word in Scripture, wholly divine and wholly human. Scripture is a wholly trustworthy record of some of the vast truth that is in God.
Jesus said, ‘Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures… I’m not here to demolish but to complete them’ (Matt 5:17). We cannot hope to imitate the calibre of Baruch’s convictions until we recover our confidence in God’s trustworthiness when he speaks in Scripture. Scripture has to be the foundation of any durable spirituality. It is the ruler’s edge against which everything has to be measured. We must be willing and equipped to confront the challenges of scholarship or force ranged against Scripture. This is as relevant to Government, academia or business organisations as it is to the Church. The more strenuous our working environment, the more necessary our biblical convictions.
The first chain secured and recorded God’s Word to Jeremiah: the second chain ran from Jeremiah to Baruch, to Gemariah, to Micaiah, to Jehudi, to Jehoiakim. The first chain led to truth becoming known: the second chain led to truth being spoken. The first chain delivered God’s word for all time: the second chain delivered God’s word for Baruch’s time. The first chain is a chain of conviction about eternal truth: the second chain is a chain of application to today’s challenges. It is impossible to speak truth to authority without both chains. It is easy to break them through ignorance, neglect or fear.
Baruch was a critical link in both chains. He recorded God’s word to Jeremiah over 20 years, thereby becoming a link in the first chain. He was also part of the second chain that spoke truth to authority. Whenever truth is spoken some will be convinced and will respond. Little did Bishop Ambrose know when he was preaching faithfully week by week in Milan that from 384 AD onwards a young Professor of Rhetoric was listening attentively. As a result Augustine became one of the most influential thinkers in history.
Baruch’s listeners spurned what they heard. The cost for Baruch was terrible. A sensitive scholar, he was not used to the coarseness of political altercation. We learn later of his depression (Jerem 45). At this time in his life all he could do was to hold on. The pressure of speaking truth to authority can be crushing when it is dismissed or threatened. Baruch shows us how to live resiliently through an extended period of personal disappointments.
Baruch developed a lifestyle of listening and learning in the pursuit of truth. Ultimately, we have to commit ourselves to a lifetime of building convictions about truth that are anchored in the words of Scripture and the Word of God who said, ’I am the way and the truth and the life.’ (John 14:6). No wonder we should give double honour to those who lead us in preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17) despite the scorching challenge of secularism. As Rev Dr Tom Tarrants, the Ku Klux Klan bomber, commented on his prison readings from Scripture, ’truth scattered darkness’.