Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Need to Smooth the Rough Edges

One of the great differences between the Church today and the early Christian Church is our modern day need to smooth over the rough edges of the faith, to systematize it, to make it reasonable and rational, and to explain everything away. I cannot say I am much impressed with this. It seems to me that God confronts us with the Mystery of the Word made flesh, the Mystery of salvation by grace, the Mystery of atonement by God in flesh dying for flesh, the Mystery of the resurrection -- giving us just enough to believe and little more.

We bombard God with questions and people bombard their Pastors with questions -- all in the hopes that everything has its place, that all can be neatly tucked in to some clear and rational outline whose answers are reasonable to us (in our modern day sensibilities) and cogent enough to be remembered and explained to others.

Is this how God deals with us? Or does God unfold and confront us with the bundle of contradictions and loose ends of who He is and what He has come to do -- within the limitations of human language and understanding? I tend to think of the later. Luther probably so as well. Luther was not much of a systematician -- an exegete and a dogmatic theologian but nothing so organized as we would want him to be or God to be.

In some of the great historic litanies (I think back to the Lift Up Your Hearts book Thomas Coates put together for the Concordia Senior College Chapel) we find these contradictions placed together and prayed in devotional form. At Christmas especially my mind is drawn back to some of those words and how they do not hide or explain but simply lay out all of these seeming contradictions in prayer form.

What we see in the Manger is not something easily explained, not easily compatible with human reason and logic, and not at all expected. It is the unexpected -- yes long predicted but who among us will not admit the prophet's words are clearer in hindsight than foresight?). It is this raw but dynamic edge that has somehow been lost.

The creeds are not the cause -- they merely encapsulate these rough edges into summary form for confession before the world, as the voice of faith in baptism, and as the voice of orthodoxy in the Eucharist. Maybe some of the systematicians are at fault (Aquinas among them). But mostly it is our desire, dare I say compulsion, to clean up God's language, to tidy up after His pen, to footnote and explain what He has left raw and bare... I was once taught in Seminary that when looking at the variant readings, it is a good bet that the most difficult reading is the earliest -- given the tendency of people to try and make sense of or coordinate text with text and give God a little help (such as the longer ending of Mark's Gospel).

Lets leave the loose ends as they are -- they do not diminish at all the credibility of the Gospel nor do they hinder the proclamation of that Gospel. In fact, I think that our compulsion to tie up God's loose ends and have an answer for everything hinders the Gospel and its work in us and through us.


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that the Thomas Coates you mention is my Uncle.

Thomas Coates

Pastor Peters said...

C. Thomas Coates, of Concordia Senior College (and, as I recall, Dean of Chapel) also missionary to Japan (?)... of blessed memory...