Thursday, August 18, 2022

Taming the wild. . .

It occurs to me that we as people have worked pretty hard to tame everything that is wild.  This is especially true of life.  Covid did not cause it but it hastened the idea that we can make life safe, secure, and without risk.  It is the great deception of the time that we will venture forth again when life is safe by behavior, mask, vaccine, or immunity.  Maybe some have grown weary of the wait but others are still holding off for that day when it will be safe to meet people again.  It is a day that will probably never come -- not because we do not try to make that safe day possible but because you cannot tame life.  

Every pastor has sat with parents who now live with the emptiness and numbness of a life that was there and gone in the womb, with the moms and dads who traded their hopes for the pain of a child still born, with the family who heard cancer from the mouth of a doctor while looking at their toddler, with the family who was informed by the trooper their teen did not survive the accident, with the soldiers who stood at the door with words no parent wants to hear, and with the news that your son or daughter took their own life.  And there are a thousand other terrible surprises parents find and pastors try to help them pick up the pieces.

We want to tame the wildness of life with pills that fix every disease, cures for every disability, surgeries for every tumor, answers for every despair, and a way out for every dead end.  It does not work that way.  Life is not safe, not secure, and not insulated from the hard, the painful, and gut wrenching.  It is still wild and nothing we can say or do can tame it.  What we cannot, God can.  Ours is not some tame God who reasons with sin or makes peace with death.  He does the unthinkable.  He comes as wild as life to tame life for us by giving up His life to redeem ours.  He is not passive but actively puts Himself in our place to save us.  He enters death not as the unwitting but as the determined and when the stone is rolled away He shows His wildness.  He is not safe but He is merciful.  That is the lesson of Narnia.  He is not tame but His wildness accomplishes salvation for a people who can do nothing to save themselves.

We struggle to tame God, to make Him predictable and therefore controllable.  Instead, He uses His wildness to do what we cannot and then invites us to see what He has accomplished for us and trust Him in life and in death.  We continually use our technology and education to try and render life safe and easy and to remake God into a toothless lion who fills the image but can do no real harm to anyone.  But God is dangerous -- as the devil well knows.  But His wildness is used for merciful purpose and He saves us in the violence of cross and the coldness of the grave.  Once we begin to get that, we can settle for no casual encounters with an easy God anymore.  It is nothing less than reverence before the God who is beyond our imagination and yet whose mystery is for merciful purpose, redeeming those who cannot save themselves and who would not if they could.  Sunday morning is not some family room or den where we can let it all hang out, where everything is good, and life is answered with safety and security.  It is holy ground on which we stand only in Christ to receive the gifts of Christ that actually deliver what they symbolize and do what they promise.

That is what is behind liturgical worship -- God is not safe or tame but He is merciful when we meet Him where He has promised to be found!  There in the means of grace, we meet the wildness of His mercy not to condemn or punish but to seek and save.  In that moment, it is not about making sense but about the delight of a merciful God who has become our Savior -- without any worth or merit on our part.  Within the awe over such mercy, faith lives, survives, and flourishes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This seems to touch upon Luther’s hidden God included in and beyond scriptural revelation, a God who predestines the elect, who blesses and hardens hearts according to His will, and whose actions are inscrutable to men.

There are in fact two Lutheranism. One does not concern itself with the hidden God. Lutherans traditionally have contented themselves with God’s plan of salvation as revealed in the Bible. Christ’s person and finished work is our righteousness and justification, which we put on in baptism, live under daily through repentance and faith, and are nourished and strengthened by through Word and Sacrament. The elect are thus those members of the Church of God who hear the Word, accept it through faith, and live accordingly as disciples of Christ. It has been remarked that this version of Lutheranism is Baptist with a liturgy.

There is another Lutheranism however that is gaining emphasis in the LCMS. Lutherans do not grow up with an awareness that Luther wrote the Bondage of the Will. Lutherans are often surprised when they do discover it, because this is not a Lutheranism that they know; in fact, it seems very Augustinian and Reformed. The elect are the elect not because they have heard the word and responded in faith, but rather because of the hidden God’s inscrutable will. Walther himself caused controversy in Lutheranism by reinforcing this emphasis on election, which seems to run contrary to the Gospel for all itself. Luther, for his part, left the hidden God and Bondage of the Will alone, only remarking much later in his Genesis commentary that election should not be the focus of our soteriology, as it was for the Reformed, nor should it drive men to either carnal security or despair. What should be our emphasis is instead on God’s revealed Gospel of salvation for all and the means of grace that brings us this salvation.

The LCMS today seems at times to be influenced more by the hidden God. We delight in the explanation of the third article in which we state that “I believe that I cannot believe.” This emphasis can foreground an election-based soteriology in ways that the Lutheran Church has traditionally not. It causes us to limit faith and elevate grace. It causes us to scoff at the word “accept” in relation to an individual accepting the Gospel, even though scripture and the Lutheran Confessions (and Walther for that matter) use this term. The traditional Lutheran definition of faith, after all, is knowledge, acceptance or assurance, and trust. Emphasis on the hidden God causes faith to be seen not as ours and our responsibility, but only as a passive instrument that receives the means of grace. This in turn causes a greater emphasis on the ceremonies and rituals of the Church that deliver the means of grace. It causes us to downplay sanctification and impoverishes our sermons on Christian living.

To be sure, the emphasis of the Lutheran Church on the preached Word and the means of grace preserves the church from fanaticism. But perhaps we should be wary of falling into the errors of the Reformed and Roman Catholics by supplementing our search for salvation by ideas about the hidden God.