Thursday, November 19, 2020

Old devotional books. . .

Old devotional books and prayerbooks were more blunt in their assessment of the need and even more blunt in their calls to repentance and faith.  I wonder if we are too soft.  A while ago we used a prayer from Starck's Prayerbook for epidemic and pandemic.  It included lines that called us to remember that we are not innocent victims of wrong but, due to sin, its willing participants.  It called us to repent and to trust in God's gracious will.  It prayed for God to cast aside the terrible affliction, not because we deserved it but because God is merciful.

Some folks did not like that prayer.  It offended them.  They had done nothing to invite the terrible curse of COVID 19 and they wanted it known that they were victims.  Sin always has victims but seldom has sinners behind the sin.  We do not want answers from God; we want comfort and that comfort begins by telling us we did nothing to bring upon ourselves the pain we are suffering.  We do not want explanations from God; we want God to take away the pain and promise never to allow it again.  We do not want God's presence; either God acts to insulate us from affliction or else He can go back to where He came from.  

I was looking up something else and came across these words written 70 years ago.  The author was Bishop Fulton Scheen.  He could have been one of a thousand authors from times before when the goal of the devotion or prayer was not therapeutic but to call us to repentance and faith.  I remember his TV program from my youth and could well imagine him saying those words he wrote long before he was a media personality.  Read them, if you desire, but they will not be easy.  We do not need understanding when our hearts have succumbed to fear and we live panicked lives.  We need voices to tell us the score, to call us to repentance, and to invite us to trust in the Lord.  Seen or not, God is still there.

Written in 1950 but appropriate to the present:  Millions of men and women today lead what has been called “lives of quiet desperation.” They are panicky, worried, neurotic, fearful, and, above all, frustrated souls. 

When Job suffered, he posed questions to God: why was he born, and why was he suffering? God appeared to him, but instead of answering Job’s questions, He began to ask Job to answer some of the larger questions about the universe. When the Creator had finished pouring queries into the head of the creature, Job realized that the questions of God were wiser than the answers of men. Because God’s ways are not our ways—because the salvation of a soul is more important than all material values – because Divine Wisdom can draw good out of evil—the human mind must develop acceptance of the Now, no matter how hard it may be for us to understand its freight of pain. We do not walk out of a theater because the hero is shot in the first act; we give the dramatist credit for having a plot in his mind; so the soul does not walk out on the first act of God’s drama of salvation—it is the last act that is to crown the play. The things that happen to us are not always susceptible to our minds’ comprehension or wills’ conquering; but they are always within the capacity of our Faith to accept and of our wills’ submission.
And, another. . .
It is the modern pagan who is the victim of circumstance, and not its master. Such a man, having no practical knowledge of God, no trust in His Providence, no assurance of His Love, lacks the shock absorber of Faith and Hope and Love when difficult days come to him. His mind is caught within the pincers of a past he regrets or resents and a future he is afraid he cannot control. Being thus squeezed, his nature is in pain. 


jwskud said...

Starck's prayer book, as Pastor W. Weedon describes in the introduction of the newest edition, is challenging, but good.

Dau's intro describes leanings towards Pietism, so the reader does need to pray the prayers in the "correct" sense, i.e. as a forgiven child of God, this is how my Lord would have me live, and this I shall pursue, not to earn righteousness or reward, but simply because I cherish my Lord.

Mark said...

Job provides the obvious answer, but I am dismayed that the author did not recall John 9:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him."

Bad things happen to good people, because it is the only way we can exercise free will and turn to God even in adversity. If good were always rewarded and evil always punished, we would be no better than Pavlov's dogs, pressing the button for the treat instead of the shock.

John 20:29: Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

We glorify God in our adversity, and give thanks to him for the trials he sends to us. As Paul teaches us in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.