Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An Understandable God Requires Us to Worship with Understanding

One of the strange conversations that flies in the face of all that we think should be, is the conversation Job had with God.  "Why," asks Job, presuming that understanding his plight and God's role in it would enable him to accept it.  In response God comes across almost like a bully -- "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?  Would you be My counselor or advise me in being who I am?"

But, of course, we presume that understanding is exactly what God wants from us.  Think about how we as parents have often thought that if our children really did understand us, they would love us more and do what we say and agree with what what we think.  Parents worth their salt have long since learned that you cannot wait for your children's understanding or consent to parent them.  You do what must be done whether they understand it or not, accept it or not.  Who among us has not seen a semi-intelligent parent trying to reason with a 3 year old when a simple "no" was all that needed to be said?

God does not want understanding from us but trust.  Worship flows not from understanding but from trust.  So those with the screwy idea that everything in the Church must be reasonable and understandable to those who just walked in off the street have it all wrong.  Understanding does not lead to faith -- faith leads to understanding.  We do not need a teacher to break through the barriers of our understanding so that we might believe, we need a Spirit who can break through with trust to hearts conditioned by sin and life in a sinful world not to trust.

God is and will always be a mystery to us.  He was not being callous to Job but challenging Job's false idea that understanding leads to faith.  Faith leads to understanding.  And in the end, Job got it right, didn't he?  "I know that my Redeemer lives and on the last day when He comes upon the earth I shall see Him face to face..."  Job thought understanding would settle his heart and make things better and he found out that trust brings peace and this peace is resident even when life itself is hellish.

We do not need to explain God to the world but to proclaim Him.  We do not need to unpack the mystery in order to worship the God who is mysterious, but to worship the mystery.  Sometimes we think that if we can make the faith more rational, the world will run headlong into the Church.  The truth is that if we proclaim the faith more faithfully -- mystery and all -- God will do as He has promised and work through this Word to accomplish His saving purpose (bring the unbelieving to faith in Christ).

Sunday morning does not have to be nor should it be an educational activity.  We are teaching as we lead God's people in worship but teaching is not what Sunday morning is about.  Sunday morning is about the mystery of God plunked right down in our midst.... the Triune God who is proclaimed... the Incarnate Savior who is present... the Word that does what it says (efficacious), the Sacraments that deliver what they promise, the fellowship born of those who share a common baptismal life, confession of faith, and place at the Table... all mysteries which the Pastor is called by God and confirmed by the Church to steward among His people (not explain away)...

I do not want a God who can fit in my mind -- I can be that God but what good does it do me?  I need a God who is so big that I cannot contain Him in my mind but who can fit Himself into flesh and blood through His Son, live to die that dying I might live, shed His blood as a life-giving stream that cleanses, nurtures, and feeds, dies the real death to be raised to a life more real... how on earth can I understand such a God?  I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.... but the Holy Spirit enlightens my darkened heart to believe, calls me from darkness into His marvelous Light, gathers me to where God is (in Word and Sacrament, the means of grace), and keeps me in this faith (that I would soon abandon if I were all alone) to eternal life...

Leave the job of explaining God to the Reformed... We must not follow this foolish end.  God does not want us to explain Him or justify Him or excuse Him... simply to believe in Him (trust) and proclaim Him (witness to what He has done, what comes to us through what He has done, and where what He has done is accessible to us), and this is enough.... more than enough...


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of that wonderful quote attributed to the great Augustine:

"Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand."


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

"Sunday morning does not have to be nor should it be an educational activity."

I think here you might be painting with too broad a brush stroke -- not all education is explanation. Much of education is experiential and participatory. In addition to lecture and rational discussion, there is the practice and drill part of education.

If I wish to teach one to hit a golf ball, it won't just be a matter of lecture, it won't be just a matter of having them read Harvey Penick's Little Red Book, but they are going to have to hit some golf balls. That is part of the learning and growth.

In worship, we participate in the mysteries of God, we dwell in His presence - and this, while it is not a lecture nor mere explanation of cold fact, is indeed educational - vitally educational. It teaches us all that encompasses the Christian faith.

The problem is not that we do not learn in the service, the problem is that too often people equate learning simply with being completely and totally rationalistic. If you are speaking against an idea of education and knowledge which is merely rationalistic, I whole heartedly agree with you - but don't concede the term "educational" to the rationalists.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: I suspect that you have put your finger on a serious problem within our church. With all seriousness we are still arguing about the various proofs of the existence of God and the best arguments for the truth of the Gospel. At the end of the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus, our Lord makes a comment about which very little is heard in sermons about this parable: (Luke 16:31) “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” It is the Lord, the Holy Spirit, Who produces faith in the children of God, but we still speak of the “power of the resurrection” as if it were an entity of its own.

Within the church, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, is frequently portrayed as some “substance” which causes people to do strange and wondrous things. We often look at Pentecost in this way. Yet the disciples received the Holy Spirit when our risen Lord breathed on them on Easter Sunday. And nothing happened. In Acts 1, having received the Holy Spirit earlier, they still ask, (Acts 1: 6) “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Our Lord answered, in part, (Luke 1: 8) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Ten days later, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, whose will is the same as that of the Father and of the Son, decided to act.

Hermann Sasse writes in “Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No. 51” in 1960, “If indeed the true doctrine of the Holy Spirit has lost its place in church and congregation, then it cannot be long before the reality of the Holy Spirit is also lost to us, just as Christ ceases to be present when He is not truly taught, when His Gospel and sacraments are falsified.” The great day, on which we celebrate the revelation of the Holy Spirit, is almost upon us again. Could we please not sing, “Come Holy Spirit, enter in, and in our hearts Your work begin”? We do an injustice to the Holy Spirit, when we ignore the fact that we received Him in baptism, at which time He began His work in us, and that He will not diminish in us or leave us, until He brings us to the gates of Paradise, or, God forbid, we evict Him from our hearts.

Christ is Risen!
George A. Marquart

Pastor Peters said...

Within the church, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, is frequently portrayed as some “substance” which causes people to do strange and wondrous things... And the strangest and most wonderful thing we can do is to believe in God and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent...