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Things really do change, big things

OPINION | Greg Clarke

Sunday 5 July 2015

When I was a boy, I found it hard to imagine that anything much would change. Big things, I mean. It seemed that life carried on, one week to the next, with most elements remaining as they were. The cricket always returned in the summer; the footy in the winter. As it was, so it ever shall be. I wasn’t fatalistic; I just felt that not much would change.

In part, this came from good Sunday Schooling. I had been taught well from the Bible that this world was passing, that the things that endure are invisible now, and Christian living is about waiting on the Lord’s return. This world would continue on its godless journey, and eventually, eventually, God would renew all things. Then things would change.

But I only had half the story ­– perhaps even less than half of the biblical story.

In 2014, thousands of illuminated balloons lit up the 15km where the Berlin Wall once stood, celebrating 25 years since its fall.

In 2014, thousands of illuminated balloons lit up the 15km where the Berlin Wall once stood, celebrating 25 years since its fall.

In my teens and early twenties, I start to notice big changes happening. In 1983, an Australian boat won the America’s Cup yacht race – unthinkable! But rather more significant changes were afoot. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down. I had stood at the wall in 1985 and couldn’t imagine how such a division might be overcome. But it was. My TV showed me images of hammers being taken to the wall. And, later, parts of it being sold on eBay.

In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released and, again on TV, I witnessed the beginning of the end of apartheid. Watching Mandela walk to freedom was like a dream. How could such a world view, with all of its political implications, be dismantled? Big change had happened.

Then in 2004, a ban was placed on smoking in Australian pubs. Again, unthinkable!

While the West agonises over scripture in public schools and the Ten Commandments on the walls of courts of law, the two-thirds world embraces the Scriptures and eagerly demands its input in all walks of life.

During this period, my theology was catching up with my fresh observations of the world around me. I started to understand the Bible’s teaching on “the kingdom of God” a little better. I started to realise that the kingdom was advancing, which meant God was already at work changing things, preparing things, and we were part of that. Like second-time-round John the Baptists, we are preparing the way for the Lord’s return. I started to say the Lord’s Prayer differently, noticing that we prayed for God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Our prayer is that heaven would be brought to earth – and what a huge change that will make. And can make. And is making.

When I took up my post with the Bible Society in 2010, I saw more of these big things that God is doing. In my first week, someone said to me that they could imagine the Great Commission being fulfilled in their lifetime. In my cynicism, I took this as hyperbole, a way of encouraging me to think big and get on with things. But my encourager was just stating facts: he could really see how every tribe and every nation would receive the good news. Technology was making it happen faster, leaping over political and geographical boundaries. Global Bible agencies were overcoming their small internal concerns and working together to see God’s word spread. The way Wycliffe Bible Translators state it is that by 2025 every language will have a Bible translation under way. That’s breathtaking, and world changing.

And another big change impressed itself upon me. While the West agonises over scripture in public schools and the Ten Commandments on the walls of courts of law, the two-thirds world embraces the Scriptures and eagerly demands its input in all walks of life. In Africa, Asia and South America, enormous numbers of people are turning to Christ. Churches are exploding. Governments are affected. The Asian century might also be a Christian century.

It’s not for me to be prescriptive about how the kingdom of God is advancing except to say that, from my limited vantage point, I can see it in several areas. You can probably see more from where you stand.

But it has changed my mind to believe that big things change. Nations rise and fall; hearts are transformed; injustices can be overturned; the Spirit of the Lord blows where he will. And now is the time of that change – not just as we look for the Day, but today.

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