I will never forget driving on a moon-less night along the deserted Stuart Highway, from a sheep station in the north of South Australia towards Port Augusta, the main regional city further south. The Stuart Highway traverses a very sparsely populated area of the state and, although our new car had powerful headlights and the speed limit was 110 km per hour, we drove cautiously, straining our eyes for the slightest glint or movement from the roadside; it’s very dangerous to hit a kangaroo at speed and we were far away from potential help. The inky blackness enveloped us like a dense, velvety blanket and no matter how much we tried we could see absolutely nothing beyond the beam of the headlights. If anything had gone wrong we would have been lost indeed — lost in deep darkness with virtually no hope of rescue.
It can be frightening and dangerous to be lost in darkness when you can do nothing to save yourself and your only hope of survival — of being found — is for someone or something outside yourself to save you. In the Bible sinners are sometimes described as ‘the lost’; the three parables recorded in Luke 15 are stories Jesus told about a lost sheep, lost coin and lost son. Sinners lost in darkness don’t know — won’t admit — that they are lost and can do nothing to save themselves. That’s why it’s so amazing that Jesus describes his mission in the following way: ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10).
In Chapter 5 Michael Raiter considers the true state of the non-believer and, once again turning to Scripture, demonstrates the desperate state of the lost and their culpable determination to suppress the truth about God. Not only does he explore the important first chapter of Romans, and clarify the work of the Holy Spirit in the world, he also helpfully analyses the apostle Paul’s address to the Athenians in the Areopagus, as recorded in Acts 17. So that we are in no doubt about the desires and intentions of non-believers, Raiter writes:
[Paul] knows full well that he is not speaking to an audience of sympathetic spiritual seekers, but a city of fools who have chosen images like mortal men and beasts instead of the true God they know is near and present.Lost in darkness, blind to the light, wilfully rebellious deniers of God; this is our true state before we are saved through the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. Like the Athenians in Paul’s day, we all were ‘separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world,’ but while far off we were ‘brought near by the blood of Christ’ (Ephesians 2:12-13). Michael Raiter again:
All around us we are being told that people are genuine spiritual seekers. We are told that it’s not Jesus that people disdain and despise, it is Christians. It is not God that people are rejecting but the church and its preachy, dogmatic imposition of outdated and fearful descriptions of this God ... There is certainly a good deal wrong with the church, as there has always been ... However, even when the Christian witness is clear, pure and winsome, there is still the spiritual reality that people have wilfully suppressed the truth about God (p 133).