The Christian’s Hammer
To build something great and beautiful, sometimes you must hit hard.
Both of my grandfathers were skilled laborers. They used tools of all kinds to ply their respective crafts of plumbing contractor and carpet fitter.
One of them was, of course, a hammer. I own one of their hammer-heads. Its face is almost rounded and splays-out from many years of hard service.
Tools wear-down with use. But there is one tool that is never dull, chipped, or broken. It’s one we can hold in our hands and whose pages we can turn.
“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” This is God’s question, posed through Jeremiah (23:29), to prophets who claimed to speak on His behalf.
A hammer, one that breaks rock in pieces. That metaphor is a powerful one. It also offends our modern sensibilities. Often, we like to think of the Bible as a book that provides comfort during times of sadness or guidance during perplexity.
It is that. But it is also God’s written self-disclosure. And He is not a God Who exists only to provide succor and security when we want them.
Idols Laid Bare
What are the rocks of our time that need shattering?
This is a “Where to begin?” kind of question. As ever in human history, the idols around us are many and attractive.
There are those that we see in our own hearts and manifest in our culture. Materialism. Selfishness. Lust. Power. Greed.
And then there are others, subtler, that urge us to pursue the idols just mentioned. They are idols of self-deception and acceptance of falsehood. Of lies that glitter and seduce, even if their end is the way of death.
One of them is the idol of indifference to God. We love not having to think about Him. Pushing Him out of our minds can produce an almost narcotic-like sense of relief. Not having to deal with Him makes life a lot simpler.
But the hammer of truth doesn’t really give us that option. Again, in Jeremiah 29, God asks, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord” (verse 24).
“All things,” explains the writer of Hebrews, “are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him to Whom we must give account” (4:13). Bottom line: We cannot escape God.
Ignoring God Until Tragedy Strikes
America is, despite its many problems, generally fat and happy. We are amazingly prosperous. The great majority of us have everything from smartphones to health insurance. We are generally free and mobile.
In situations like this, we tend to forget God and, instead, remember temporal duties and pleasures to His exclusion. His deliberate exclusion, that is. It’s not that His presence is so distant that we can’t consider it.
“His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). And as Paul told the philosophers of Athens, “He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).
Yet in our public schools, a mention of God can result in disciplinary action. In our homes, we mumble a few words to an “unknown God” at Thanksgiving and otherwise ignore Him.
And then tragedy strikes — the mass shootings at Parkland is the most recent example — and suddenly clergy are interviewed on cable news and “thoughts and prayers go out” to the afflicted. God is wanted then. For comfort. For succor.
Truth is Offensive
But although the Bible does indeed speak of “the God of all comfort” (II Corinthians 1:3-4), it describes itself as a sword, a fire, and a hammer. The God of the book is a God of grace, yes, but also of truth.
This all dovetails to one great conclusion: We cannot bear witness to “the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:2) without giving offense. A hammer breaks. A fire burns. A sword cuts.
This does not mean we can use the Bible with rage and hostility. Rather, in proclaiming the truth of God, both to friends and family as well as the broader society, do not expect to be welcomed warmly.
The Shattering We Need
While we need to be persuasive and winsome, the cross of Christ is an offense. This is in part because it forces us to look at something hideously ugly — our sin. A sword that cuts to the joints and marrow, to the division of the soul and spirit, that exposes our inmost motives, is an instrument we’d just as soon remain unused. Surgery is unpleasant, after all.
Yet without surgery, a suffering patient will die. Christians are called to speak the truth, truth found in God’s Word, in a loving way and out of loving motives. But as Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
A hammer is needed to shatter something that, if left alone, does no one any good. But to build something great and beautiful, sometimes you must hit hard. And in a culture that is drifting ever farther from the God, the blows of the hammer of truth, accurately aimed and struck out of compassion, are much needed.