Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Epiphany and a Pair of Doxas. . .

Lutherans are not very good at systematic theology.  I am afraid our theology is sort of like my desktop.  It is a mess -- a mess of contractions and paradoxes that we make little attempt to reconcile or resolve.  But that is the theology of Scripture.  God does not give us neat little packages, all sorted out and wrapped and adorned with ribbon.  God gives us glimpses that tempt the reason but do not conform to it.  He manifests Himself not in the expected but in the surprise of what does not fit, what seems out of place, and what we must deem impossible.

If you want neat and tidy theology, better track down a good Calvinist Church (if you can find a real Calvinist anymore).  Or even dally a bit with St. Thomas Aquinas.  But in Luther and those who walk with him you will not find God all wrapped up in a box.  We live with the pain of contraction and conflict, with paradoxes that provide us with the δόξα (glory) God alone defines and delivers. 

The word paradox comes from the Greek para (beside, off to the side, or above) and dokein (to think or to seem). You may notice that doxa or glory is not far from this.  In fact, doxa proceeds from the root of dokein.  A paradox is that which is  “off to the side” or "beside" the reasonable, normal, or expected way of seeing, understanding, and thinking of the thing. To Job of old God spoke to all humanity.  "My ways are not your ways..."  "My ways are beyond you..."  "Who do you think you are?  Where were you to advise Me when I laid the foundation of the world..."  Theology which is true to God's self-disclosure and faithful to His Word will face many paradoxes in which He has placed (hidden) Himself and His glory.  God's ways, His purpose, and His will defies all our wisdom and understanding.  We are the folly of those who presume to be wise and who judge the wisdom of God to be foolish.  God is filled with the surprise of mercy that comes wrapped up in the contradiction of God made flesh, the righteous for the wicked, the holy for the unclean, the innocent for the guilty, the sinless for the sinful, the Word of life for those who chose death. . .  That does not mean to say that God is irrational or schizophrenic but that He acts outside the box of our prediction and control, apart from our expectations, but is consistent in mercy and grace.

Some of our Christmas hymns and carols have captured this well.  The great exchange of the Son of God for the sinful creation is surely front and center in all of this but John's Gospel leaves us with the stark reality of the Word made flesh, through whom all things came to be, which neither recognized its Lord nor welcomed Him who came to display the glory of God in mercy for unworthy and undeserving.  All of Epiphany reveals this.  Magi who do not belong and yet bring gifts of faith and worship. . . Jordan's river where John meets Jesus amid the hesitation of his own certainty that Jesus does not belong there with the sinners. . . The Lamb of God who walks on two feet and calls the most unlikely of disciples to follow Him. . . The Lord of creation who makes fishermen into fishers of men. . . The Beatitudes who speak of the Blessed but do not say if it is Jesus or us. . . The Light and Salt that shines and preserves. . . the Law and Prophets not abrogated but fulfilled in the flesh and blood of God incarnate. . . Reconciliation which is more urgent than sacrificial offering. . . And Love which refuses retribution and chooses mercy. . .

Truly as St. Paul has said, this is not a wisdom of this age or of the earthly wise but a secret and hidden, paradoxical wisdom of God, decreed before the ages and made known in the flesh and blood of the Son of God.  Nature does not lead us here and reason does not make sense of it all.  The doxa of this paradox is known only by faith prompted by the Spirit.  Systematic theology is sort of like a cleaning lady who tries to straighten up God's mess.  The Lord does not ask us to help Him out in this way but merely to believe in Him as He has made Himself known.

No comments: