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Is There No Balm In Gilead?

Neal Pollard

Jeremiah asks that question rhetorically? It comes at the end of an oracle God gave this prophet to share with his people, Judah. He had asked if the people had turned to idolatry because God was not in Zion (Jer. 8:19). He then ends by saying, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?” (8:22). In context, the people were sin-sick, but the cure was available. It was not because God was unable to restore them that they were ailing, but because they refused to seek the cure.

Certainly, today’s society mirrors this attitude of Jeremiah’s contemporaries, but this, in context, was spoken to those who had been healed in the past. These were God’s people. Now, they were spiritually sick and not getting better. The logical question is the one Jeremiah asked—“Why not?” When we are sick with sinful habits, lifestyles, attitudes, and speech, why don’t we turn to God for the cure?

  • Sometimes, we are oblivious to our symptoms.  Paul speaks of some who are “past feeling” (Eph. 4:19). We can become callous to our condition and rationalize it. As long as we persist in that state, it is as if there is no balm.
  • Sometimes, we look elsewhere for the cure. Judah had her idols, and so can we. People struggling with life turn to so many poor substitutes to numb, deaden, and try to eliminate the pain. Nothing can substitute for the Balm of Gilead (cf. Jer. 3:23).
  • Sometimes, we feel ourselves to be a hopeless case. As we struggle with our temptations and sins, we can get to the point where we feel we’ve gone too far or been too often to reverse the problem. This is not God’s message. He provides hope to every one who will come to Him for help (Heb. 6:9-12).
  • Sometimes, we underestimate God’s power. Jeremiah’s predecessor, Isaiah, shares God’s message regarding this, saying, “The Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save” (59:1). Jeremiah would echo this idea, writing, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (32:17; keep reading in context for more beautiful truth along this line). Though we should know better, sometimes we forget God’s power to save.
  • Sometimes, we neglect our support system. God gave the church as a hospital where all of us, sick with sin, can not only receive healing from Him but help each other. In a sense, we’re a leper colony that has found the One who will keep us from dying. But we need each other for help to survive this spiritual sickness (Gal. 6:1-2).
  • Sometimes, we don’t avail ourselves of God’s medicine. How tragic to die from spiritual disease when God has the means to heal us. We have His Word as a divine prescription. We have prayer. We have the confidence of faith. We have the trust in His providence. He has armed us sufficiently with the cure, if we accept it (cf. Luke 5:31).

While they await the cure for cancer, cystic fibrosis, ALS, multiple sclerosis, and the like, our greatest illness has already been remedied. This illness carries with it the greatest repercussions. We cannot neglect the cure. But if we spiritually die, it will not be because there is no balm and no Physician. It will be because we would not come to Him for healing. May we not let this be the reason.

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Why Is Movie Attendance Falling?

Neal Pollard

Apparently, churches are not the only ones bemoaning falling attendance.  Amy Kaufman of the L.A. Times reports that only 1.28 billion people bought a ticket for a movie in the U.S. and Canada in 2011.  That may still like a huge number of patrons, but  it is the lowest number in 16 years. Those of us who rarely darken the darkened Hollywood houses would point to ticket prices, especially a cost to value comparison being woefully dissatisfying. Kaufman points to a disconnect between the industry and a new generation of movie-watchers.

I confess to knowing very little about marketing particularly this product.  But I wonder if there is another factor or two at play beyond economics and a generation gap.  As I heard the statistic about falling movie attendance first on radio news, my mind went back to a book my brother-in-law, Bud Woodall, gave to me 15 years ago.  It is called Five Lies of the Century and is written by David T. Moore.  Moore explores five myths of our culture, one of which is that “Entertainment Is Harmless.”  One of the media myths he explores is the idea that the media just gives people what they want.  Moore says, “If the media is really giving people what they want, then why are fewer people going to movies, concerts, and watching TV?…Seventy-eight percent of Americans go to two films or fewer a year. When they do go, it’s nearly always to see an exceptionally good film” (283-284).  He makes the point that in the 1980s, despite “G” rated movies far outperforming “R” movies, the industry increased production of “R” rated movies by almost 20% in that decade.

So, a generation later, people have patronized movies full of filthy language, irreverence, gratuitous violence, and sexual immorality of every flavor and kind.  Like a lesser drug loses its pull eventually, movies that titillate also desensitize much the way that lemons take the enamel off a tooth.  Movies have to push the envelope more and move the edge further.  This will work for a while, along with technological advances like 3-D and interactive theatre seats.  Perhaps, like someone living on a diet of fat and sugar, north American movie-goers are glutted with drug, sex, vulgarity, and profanity.  If the past is any kind of predictor, the majority will return after their hiatus.  May we, as Christians, not follow them.  Remember, the majority are on the wrong spiritual road (Mt. 7:13-14).