Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Faith is by nature wild. . .

The taming of faith is the constant endeavor of church and of the individual Christian.  We cannot have a faith that stares into the great mystery and simply believes.  Oh, no.  We must have logical and reasonable support for this thing called faith.  It can surely support our intuition and it can bless the reasoned pursuit of the unknown but faith cannot be allowed to contradict what logic or experience tells us.  We want faith but we want a tame faith, a faith that neither shocks nor confounds.  We want a faith that confirms both what we think and experience but we are not so sure about one which calls us to take the great leap into the realm of what our senses cannot know and our minds cannot comprehend.  We do this because we want a tame God as well.  One predictable and reasonable, with whom you can negotiate and who will compromise with us to achieve at least part of an intended end.

That said, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as well as the God who meets us in His incarnate Son is not this God.  He is wild and scary -- not because He is unpredictable but because He is.  He is a God of promise who keeps His Word.  He is a God of power -- not because we have no idea where that power will be shown but because we see that power displayed shockingly upon the cross.  He is a God of mystery -- not because we must unpack Him and engage Him to get to know Him but because His nature contradicts and confounds our sinful nature.  We meet Him on the ground of faith.  It is not where we would want to find Him but it is where He has come to us -- this wild and untamed God who bids us to depart from the safety and security of our senses, our reason, and our experience and then delivers to us His Spirit to lead us where we are not at all sure we want to go.

The Word of God is not tame -- it is wild.  It does what it says!  It is the living voice of the ever living God who died that we might live.  It is the address of a Good Shepherd who does not disdain His sheep but loves them even to His death.  It is no mere truth proposition but a lively Word that speaks and in speaking it acts to deliver the result the Holy Spirit speaker intends.  That God's Word is true is an easy enough thing to believe.  That God's Word is efficacious, that it delivers what it says and does what it promises.  Well, that is harder to believe.  Only the Spirit can bid our reluctant and fearful hearts to believe this.

Consider the ancient prayer before communion.  Lord, I am not worthy to receive You but only say the Word and I shall be healed...  Yes, only say the Word.  This is no tame God or toothless Lion but the God whose Word truly is a two edged sword and it does have the power to heal the sin sick soul and restore the lost to the life God intended.  The shocking thing in the Sacrament is not that the flesh of Christ is present in the bread or His blood in the cup but that it is given to us to eat and drink.  We repulse against this not because we have an aversion to flesh and blood but because no reasoned mind or thoughtful soul can comprehend a God who does this.

We speak of faith but it is not faith we seek.  We seek something that is weak and impotent but makes us feel better -- a creation of sentiment and sincerity.  That is not faith.  Faith always wavers on the balance beam of trust and doubt; it always requires the Holy Spirit and the infusion of God's grace and power to secure the fragile and weak trust.  Faith is always "Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief."  Faith knows no other way.  Only whole and complete dependence upon the Lord.  Nothing in our hands we bring.

Our age is not so much troubled by the fear of God as it is the fear of faith.  We want a God, a deity who knows how to be a God.  We do not want a God who behaves contrary to expectation, who desires mercy and not sacrifice.  We do not want to believe if believing means that God is acting in His Word, if water is more than symbol or sign, or if bread and wine really convey the mystery of His flesh for the life of the world and His blood that cleanses us from all sin.  We want a tame God, to be sure, but we want even more a tame faith -- one that does not require too much of us, that conforms the things of God to our reasonable expectations, and that does not require us to only believe.

The task of preaching is not simply to call us to faith but to remind us faith is wild and not tame, explosive and not quiet, transformative and not comfortable.  If only we had the faith the size of a mustard seed!  Even that is too much for a people afraid to risk all on mercy, on the God who suffers for His suffering, dies for the guilty, covers the shameful with righteousness, and rises to lead them beyond imagination into the heart of the mystery of God.  No, this kind of faith is even more frightening to the sin shaped heart that God Himself. 


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Good points. I think Hebrews 11 explains faith best for me personally. It means living in an uncertain world while completely trusting in Christ not only to redeem us from our sins, but to guide us through the Holy Spirit as we journey on. We must first set it in our minds and hearts that we belong to Christ, not to Satan and the world, and He has given us assurance of eternal life. We cannot dig deeply into our motives and aspirations, which are often complex and incomprehensible, but we need not be confused or struggle with doubts. Simply believe.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Peters: I was genuinely touched and edified by this posting. I did not find it frightening but rather exciting, because it so accurately reflects the adventure of God’s people in the hostile world in which we live while knowing the victorious outcome through the eyes of faith. Also with the eyes of faith, we can see how God in His mercy has guided and protected us and brought us safely to this place. Or as we sing, not often enough, “The Lord hath helped me hitherto By His surpassing favor;
But there was one jarring note: “Consider the ancient prayer before communion. Lord, I am not worthy to receive You but only say the Word and I shall be healed... Yes, only say the Word. “ There are many things we repeat in our piety without giving real thought to the meaning of what we say. Indeed the centurion had faith that his servant would be healed, and our Lord commended that faith. But when we replace “servum meum” with “anima mea” we ask God to do what He has already done. Indeed, through Baptism He has brought us into His kingdom, and thereby made us worthy to receive His gifts. It is not a worthiness we have achieved ourselves, but one He bestows on us, and one which we should not deny as if we were still unrepentant unbelievers. If we deny the worthiness He has given us, we become like the person without the proper garment at the wedding feast. That kind of false humility can get one into real trouble. For this reason, starting many years ago, I have always cringed when I heard or read this, “et sanabitur anima mea,” regardless of how ancient the practice is. By faith I know, “It is right with my soul!”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart