I’ve been chewing on Luke 16.19-31 — you know, the passage where Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. And it’s really stimulating me as I think about the dynamics of spiritual growth.
I’m particularly stirred up by the response Jesus tells us Abraham makes to the rich man when asked if he can dispatch Lazarus to warn his family:
‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house — because I have five brothers — to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’
‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’ (Luke 16:27-31 HCSB)
Talk about a shut down!
It’s possible to understand Abraham’s dramatic final shut down in terms of information.
Understood this way, Abraham’s response would travel along the lines of: “Unless they understand the Old Testament background and promise that would give significance to a person rising from death, they won’t be convinced to repent”.
However, I’m thinking that what Abraham’s saying is not so much about information as inclination.
That is to say, understanding ‘Moses and the prophets’ — ie. the Old Testament context — is barely even half the job. Far more important is believing what they say.
For the rich man, it’s not so much an issue of ignorance or misunderstanding as of hardness of heart. (Of course, ignorance and misunderstanding may be wrapped up with this hard-heartedness. But it’s ultimately a matter of trust.)
This lines up with the verdict the writer of Hebrew’s passes on the generation of Israelites who were rescued from Egypt but never entered the promised land — “they were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3.19).
And this is so often still the case when we sin or fail to grow and mature.
It’s our unbelief that lurks behind it — even our unwillingness to believe.
It’s rooted in the fact that we don’t trust Jesus to provide those things we’re accustomed to getting some other way: our sense of completeness, worth, security, or acceptance.
We’re afraid that he won’t deliver. Or that he can’t. At least, not on schedule.
Because, ultimately, we’re not inclined to trust him. Which is why even a spectacular demonstration of his reliability — or his provision and attention to our needs — can fail to win our allegiance.
If we don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, we will not be persuaded — even if someone rises from the dead!