We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. Heb. 5:11
As a kid I was always fascinated with stories of the north. Many of these had to do with the Klondike gold rush. One story often told is of people who would leave everything to go prospecting for gold, discover a vein of gold, stake a claim, and proceed to get down to the business of getting the ore out of the mine. All would go well at first, but then the vein of gold they had been following would disappear. They had come to the end of the rainbow, or so they thought, and the pot of gold was no longer there. Giving up in discouragement, they would sell their claim for a few hundred dollars, and take the next train back home. But then the person who bought the claim would continue digging in the same spot where the former owners had left off. And often, just a few feet deeper, the new owner would strike gold.
So it is with our growth as Christians. Like the prospector who lacks tenacity, we can easily assume that there is no more gold left in this claim when really there is a rich vein of ore just a few feet deeper than where we are. We too need to find motivation to keep growing in our response to God so that we don’t give up prematurely on the promised gold. Such is the risk we face the longer we’ve been a Christian—that we will stop responding to God’s invitation and settle for something less.
We know very little about the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews other than that, having taken the first steps towards maturity in Christ, they’ve now taken a step back. According Heb. 5:11, they “no longer try to understand.” Another way to translate the Greek phrase used here is that they have become “dull with respect to what is heard.” In other words they hear without effect, without enthusiasm or response. Immune to the word of God, they no longer feel the same need for conversion as they once did. No longer do they expect any real challenge or motivation from the Holy Spirit’s prompting, and the writer rebukes them for this when he says, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again” (Heb. 5:12). He compares their immaturity to a baby who drinks only milk.
A baby can’t handle solid foods. But to continue with milk once it is old enough for a solid diet would not be good. Not only would it stunt its growth but the baby would always be hungry and unsatisfied as its body craved for something more substantial. So it is with the recipients of this letter. They have not progressed to the solid food they should be enjoying by now, and they risk spiritual anemia because of their impoverished diet.
Unfortunately this is what we see in too many Christians these days. There is a malaise or discouragement among many who grieve that they no longer feel what they used to feel when they were young in the faith. They no longer enjoy the same enthusiasm for worship, preaching, prayer or Scripture as they once did. And though they grieve their loss of passion, they are no longer sure what to hope for other than an impossible return to where they once were. They are hungry for something more and often feel guilty, believing that this hunger is a sign of their failure to secure the promises they once believed were possible. And so they find themselves either living with a constant sense of incompletion, or else eventually lowering their expectations of the spiritual life to something more manageable. Either way they remain unsatisfied because they know they are no longer thriving as they once were.
The writer of Hebrews warns us of such pitfalls if we do not “hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at first” (Heb. 3:14). If we prematurely stop digging for gold before we have found it, we too will risk similar disappointment. We are exhorted instead to show diligence in seeking God so that none of us miss out on the promises that still lay ahead of us. We are assured that there is more gold in the ground, and encouraged to keep digging until we find it.