Favorite Verses in Context: The Lowercase ‘I’

It’s probably one of the most quoted verses of the Bible, 2 Chronicles 7:14:

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hearfrom heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Context is Key

Notice, that “if” has a lowercase I on it.  Ever noticed it before? WIthout looking it up, what was the occasion in which this phrase was uttered? Who was it said to? While the sentiment is fine as quoted above, as in many things, context is key. Clearly, this is a message from God to the people of Israel, and the audience was a wayward king, being called to repentance and to lead the people back to God! Right?

While that would be in line with what we’d expect, it wasn’t the case at all. In truth, this phrase is the second half of a statement made by God himself to King Solomon the night after Solomon dedicated his Temple. The whole statement reads:

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:13-14

We rightly take comfort in the second half of the statement, but we should also be aware of the first half. God knew his people would mess up, he knew they’d fail, and he makes it clear that there will be dire consequences for that failure, but all is not hopeless. When the people of God repent of their sins when they turn back to God, he will hear them, heal them and restore them.  This is something we see illustrated in scripture time and time again, from the time of Abraham through to the time of Christ.

A New Context

While it’s popular, almost cliche to apply the passage to our own national situation, be it in the US, Great Brittian, or some other nation. The situation is not the same for us who claim the name of Christ as it was for our Israelite forefathers. Unlike the people of the Old Testament, we Christians have no “nation”. There is no “Christendom” on the map. We are told in the New Testament, we are to be in the world, not of it. That means this world is not our home, and that throws a wrench into the popular application of the passage. So, if it doesn’t apply to worldly kingdoms, what would it apply to in our lives? What is our “land”? For the Christian, I believe this passage to be rightly applied to the institution of the Church. The Church is our family, our land, our calling, our place. It doesn’t require us to dig very deep to see that the Church, as a whole, is sick. Sure, as with the nation of Israel, there are pockets of the Church that are healthy, following God and focused on him, but there’s also large portions of the body that have fallen away. In an attempt to seek out worldly acceptance, they ignore the word of God. This is where the passage applies. This is what needs healing. We are the seasoning of the world, not the inhabitants.

What Really Matters

What really matters is the health of the Church. With the number of self-proclaimed “Christians” in the world, we should be seeing explosive growth well beyond what they saw on the day of Pentecost. A healthy Church attracts people with love and compassion, a sick church repels people through anger and finger-pointing. We need to look at ourselves, are we attracting people who differ from us, or are we repelling them? Are we expanding the kingdom and generating growth, or have we ushered in a period of drought?