Scripture reading: Judges 3:1-31, Psalm 91:1-16
Just over a hundred years ago, a funny belief began to crop up among Western Christians. In Europe especially, Christians had enjoyed a long season of prosperity and peace, which began to shape their theology. They concluded that humans were evolving, outgrowing the bad habits of violence, war, and sin. Humans, they reasoned, were essentially good, and getting better with every generation.
What these Christians developed was a weak view of sin and an idealistic view of human nature, and it remained popular for a while. It shaped Christians’ faith and the way they read Scripture, but it didn’t last very long. In 1914, the world was plunged into World War I, which shattered all of those illusions. As it turned out, humans were not evolving out of sin. In fact, we were no different than any generation before us. If anything, humans were only “advancing” in our technology for fighting each other.
This bit of Church history is good to keep in mind while reading the book of Judges, because it demonstrates a principle we will see again and again. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann once wrote, “Prosperity breeds amnesia,” and there is perhaps no better description of what happened to Christians a century ago, and what happened to the Israelites in Judges. Every time the Israelites prospered, they didn’t simply forget God; they forgot what it means to be human in the world. They forgot their own sin. They forgot the world’s brokenness. And they forgot how desperately they needed God. So they lived as if they didn’t.
We should never be too quick to explain the stories of violence and suffering in Judges. Neat and tidy answers almost always do a disservice to these difficult passages. That said, it is safe to say that the cycle of foreign invasions had an eye-opening effect on the Israelites, in the same way that World War I shattered the rose-colored glasses of idealistic Christians. When God tested “all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars” (Judges 3:1), you can’t help but wonder if this was another way of saying, “In the absence of war, the Israelites had forgotten. They had forgotten their weakness. They had forgotten their vulnerability. They had forgotten that they needed God.”
It was true then and it is still true today: prosperity breeds amnesia. In times of comfort, we do not simply forget God, but we also forget the seriousness of sin, the brokenness of this world, and why we so desperately need a Savior to mend it. That said, this kind of forgetting is one that most people in the world are never afforded. In regions of famine and civil war, it’s impossible to ignore that this world is not as it should be. But for those of us living in relative comfort, who rarely bump up against the jagged edges of this fractured planet, we can forget just how devastating the effects of sin have been.
That is one lesson we can take from Judges. It challenges us not only to remember God, but to remember our brokenness and the brokenness of the world. When we downplay sin, we downplay grace, and we downplay our dependency on it. So as ugly and horrible as suffering can be, and as much as it grieves God most of all, through it we can detect the still, small voice of the Spirit whispering to us: “This is why you need a Savior. This is why I came.”
Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, mom, and she holds a PhD on women and calling. She blogs at SheWorships.com, and is the author of Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You.