The Famine Of The Word -- By: Elizabeth Achtemeier

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 02:2 (Spring 1985)
Article: The Famine Of The Word
Author: Elizabeth Achtemeier

The Famine Of The Word

Elizabeth Achtemeier

Visiting Professor of Homiletics and Old Testament,
Union Theological Seminary in Virginia

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord God.

When I will send a famine on the land;

not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,

but of hearing the words of the Lord.

They shall wander from sea to sea,

and from north to east;

they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,

but they shall not find it (Amos 8:11–12).

We live in a culture in which a lot of frantic searching is taking place. The newspaper, The Washington Post, sometimes publishes a weekly guide of things to do, and one of the sections in that guide is entitled simply Coping.” Under that heading are listed all sorts of groups to whom readers can go for help. There is a mental health clinic, a Women’s Rap Group, a coffee for Parents without Partners, a Crisis Intervention Counseling service—all places where people who are searching may find some satisfaction. There is a hunger abroad in the land, and an uneasiness—an uneasiness that perhaps we have lost the key to life, or maybe even our souls. And so people are searching—searching frantically for something to feed their inner selves. Books on how to find inward peace or outward confidence, or on how to get one’s head together, crowd the bookstores and the best seller lists every year. Spiritual groups and gurus of every kind claim millions of adherents: three million Americans now practice transcendental meditation, five million engage in yoga, three million have turned to eastern religions, nine million belong to healing groups. In short, we have a modern American duplicate of the picture Amos gives us in our text—of people wandering from sea to sea, running to and fro, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes desperately, seeking a word from God.

The difficulty is that so few seem to be finding that word, and the question that therefore naturally arises is, just what have we church people been doing? We are the stewards of the word of God, are we not? At least that is the way Paul describes us—as stewards of the mysteries of God, required to be faithful, sent by our Master to hand on the word and to make disciples of all nations. Why is it, then, that it is Kubler-Ross or a physician like Raymond Moody, for example, who must attract thousands of people to discuss the issues of death and dying? Is it because we church people have failed to grapple with the deepest enigmas of human life, and have not communicated a gospel at whose center is an empty tomb?

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