Amber Van Schooneveld: Zephaniah
Reading Zephaniah is hard. You enter a world more than 2,500 years ago in which a jealous, wrathful God promises destruction — that blood will pour forth like dust and entrails like filth. How do you understand this in our modern context in which we read God primarily through the lens of grace?
Though I have a hard time intellectually integrating this God of annihilation into my worldview, I can ask myself, “What can I learn from this?” Zephaniah makes clear what God hates: Violence and deceit, pride, complacency.
Zephaniah also shares what God values: Humility, righteousness, those who seek Him.
While I honestly don’t know what to do with Zephaniah, I can glean how to live my life today: humbly, without violence or deceit, without complacency, and in righteousness.
The one that strikes me the most is “complacency.” Zephaniah 1:12 says “I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’”
I hate to admit how much this resembles me. If I had to come up with a few words to describe how the past two years have left me, they would be, “exhausted and checked out.” When every conversation seems like a potential minefield for offense and even the simplest interactions seem fraught, I am afraid that my weaker impulses have won out: I want to withdraw from this crazy world and just stop engaging. I want to be complacent, enjoying my comfortable life far from the screaming of the world.
But we know, from both the Old Testament and the New, that the Lord doesn’t want a disengaged and comfortable people. He wants a people who are actively seeking to remake this world in His image.
I realize in this new year that I need to find better methods of preventing burnout and check-out. To find wells of refreshment. Sources of hope. Energy for action. For me, some of that comes down to boundaries. I can’t care about anything when I feel that I ought to care about everything, when I carry the weight of every world issue on my shoulders. When I do attempt it, I become exhausted and complacent because I tried to lift too much.
Here’s what I think I need to do in this new year: In a world of noise and screaming, I need to thoughtfully consider what I need to turn down the volume on, what I need to turn up the volume on, and which channels I need to simply switch off. The answer to the second is clear to me: I need to turn up the voice of the Lord, words of righteousness and hope. The answer to the first and third questions are much more difficult, and ones I’ll have to ponder.
What do you think? Which words from Zephaniah impact you the most and what do you think they might mean for your life this year?