Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Gagging of God

First of all you may want to peruse the blog that occasioned this commentary.  You can read it HERE.  It is a report of the top ten most frequently searched Bible verses, at least according to Google.  It is an interesting mix, fairly representative of Scripture, except for one thing.  You have to head way down the list before you encounter any verse than mentions the dreaded three letter word -- SIN!  Even then, it mentions sin in the context of how to get rid of it (at #19) and how everyone has it (#20 so how bad can it be).

Interesting.  I wonder if it were possible to Google all the sermons preach in America or the world, how far down the list would you have to go before encountering the word sin.  Even then, would we meet much of sin in terms of its destructive power to rob and steal the nobility of our life, to mark us for mortal death and condemn us to eternal death, or to build walls between us and each other and between us and God?  Or would we meet sin more in the context of our failure to reach our full potential, or our failure to be all that we can be (oh, duh, that's the Army), or our failure to get out of our life all that we should?  Hmmm... not so much interesting any more as sad... very sad.

The article mentions a book I shall have to read The Gagging of God.  Ultimately this is not so much an organized gagging of the Lord as it is a casual silencing of God by simply skipping over the things we do not want to hear.  I can understand this.  There are plenty of Sundays after I have read words of Jesus like "do not think I have come to bring peace on earth" or "I have come to set brother against brother..." or the like and have wondered why do we want to hear this?  It is as if I feel I should turn into a question the end of the reading "This is the Gospel of the Lord?"

What we do not want to hear are often the very things we need to hear the most.  I have friends who are diabetic (not fully compliant diabetics) who hear exactly what they do not want to hear from their physicians -- but if they do not hear and heed his words, it does not bode well for them.  I absolutely hate going to the dentist and the little game I play with the hygienist about "how often have you flossed?"  It is most unpleasant for me to have to fuzzy out the truth and listen to her tell me how important it is to floss.  But I do not have great teeth and if I am going to keep them, I had better hear and heed her words.  I could not stand it when the guy rotating my tires told me that they were bald and I needed new ones -- at $135 a pop, plus alignment.  But I am glad he told me.  I needed to hear and heed his words if I were to head me or my family down the road safely.

Both in terms of our preaching to the folks in the pew and to those not yet of the kingdom of God, we need to say what they do not want to hear.  It is not because we delight in telling them what is bad but only by stark confrontation with what sin is and what its death means can they hear the Gospel.  I once wondered if the reason people did not want to hear certain things is that they figured the people telling them got some sort of sick delight over saying bad news (the tire guy or dental hygienist).  But I no longer think that way.  I think we want to be liked and loved and so we try to avoid saying out loud the things that might interfere with this like or love from others.  So the physician often sugar coats the bad news or couches it in medical speak -- not because he wants to but because he is afraid of the consequences of giving us the unvarnished truth.  And preachers are often the same way.

The Law is not the final word of God and sin is not where the sermon should end, but the Law must be spoken and sin must be preached or we will have kidnapped God, put Him in a corner, gagged Him, and allowed Him only to speak what we want Him to say.  In the end, such a God is mere creature and we have broken the first commandment -- broken it in such a way that the Gospel will remain hidden to us and grace inaccessible -- no matter how wonderful our talk about reaching high, fulfilling our goals, living up to our potential, and getting what we want from life...

6 comments:

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

You might want to take a gander at http://www.wordle.net/ - you can copy text or put a link in the site, and it will make a "word cloud" - where words that appear more frequently show up larger and more prominently.

Neat tool. Useful for comparison between what different places teach.

Anonymous said...

Aren't humans amazing? They kill wildlife - birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.

Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.

So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases.

Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.

Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and then call for Peace on Earth.

~Revised Preface to Old MacDonald's Factory Farm by C. David Coates~

_____________


Anyone can break this cycle of violence! Everyone has the power to choose compassion! Please visit these websites to align your core values with life affirming choices: http://veganvideo.org & http://tryveg.com


"Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right."
~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Anonymous said...

The Gagging of God by D.A. Carson was
written in 1996. This thick and
intellectual volume demonstrated how
God has been silenced in the public
square by the pluralism of our
current culture. It is a bold
challenge to the Christ-centered
Christian community to not be
ashamed of our Lord and Savior Jesus
Christ.

Brian Yamabe said...

Another interesting word visualizer is Google Ngram. It maps the use of words in books over time. I did one for sin/grace/gospel/truth. It's interesting how the decline of all these words parallel each other.

Anonymous said...

“… in all the sermons preached in America … would we meet much of sin in terms of its destructive power to rob and steal the nobility of our life, to mark us for mortal death and condemn us to eternal death, …” Who are these “us” and “we”? Are they the ones about whom St. Paul writes, Romans 8:33ff, “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?”

When in my youth I struggled with the question whether my sins mark me as someone not loved by God, I found consolation in C.F.W. Walther’s “Law and Gospel”, particularly Theses 8, 18, and 23. Later, much later, because so little is preached about the Kingdom of God in our churches, I came to realize that there are only two kinds of people in this world: those who are members of God’s Kingdom and those who are not. Walther urges “us”, those who are members of God’s Kingdom, to be as careful when we preach (I am not a pastor, but I use the “we” here to indicate the common action of the Church) to distinguish between the people of God and those who are not, as we are in distinguishing between Law and Gospel. As the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat teaches us, even when we can tell who is who, we dare not uproot the weeds for fear of harming the wheat. If God’s people are made to think that they are not “the people of His pasture”, then we have done just that.

We have to trust God when He tells us, “I will write my Law (Torah, which never means just the 10 Commandments, but includes them) in their hearts.” This has to affect the way sin is preached to those in whose hearts God has written His Law, who are baptized and have the Lord, the Holy Spirit, dwelling in them.

Luther makes this point when he writes about how St. Paul, having explained salvation by faith, turns to his readers with the words, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” He does not threaten them with “eternal death”, because that would contradict everything he wrote before.

So, yes, God hates sin. We, the people of God, should make use of all the means, including the Means of Grace, available in His Kingdom to sin less. But we should not allow anyone to threaten us with the Law of God, because His Son has fulfilled it for us and has born the punishment for our sins. He is a just God and does not exact retribution twice.

As we read in The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, VI. The Third Use of the Law, “(5) … But the meaning of St. Paul is that the Law cannot burden with its curse those who have been reconciled to God through Christ; nor must it vex the regenerate with its coercion, because they have pleasure in God's Law after the inner man.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

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