Friday, December 29, 2023

In general. . .

The easy love is to love things in the abstract.  We love the idea of the thing but not necessarily the thing itself.  That is because the easiest love is to love in general, to love the abstract.  In fact, it is easy to love almost anything in general – we can love marriage but hate to be married or or love the idea of children but hate kids or love a vocation but hate work or love the idea of being thin but hate the diet and exercise.  It is like the old Peanuts cartoon -- I love mankind; it is people I can't stand!

So we love the idea of God but not a particular God.  We love being religious but cannot stand religion.  We love the ritual and the piety but don't want to mess it up with content -- you know, doctrine and that kind of stuff.  So the spiritual without being religious idea appeals to us greatly.  Sure, sometimes you miss the specifics -- the worship and all that stuff but then you go to church like you would see a movie or something and get a little fix of it all to tide you over.  But you do not go every Sunday.  There is always some reason to justify the occasional religious participation while keeping a safe distance from actually believing in something.

It is always the particular that brings problems.  There is too much baggage in believing in a specific God.  That is one of the reasons why we don't want to belong to organized religion.  Too much goes with it for us to feel the comfortable distance we desire.  So we have a God who is largely contained until we want Him or need Him and then He comes at our call like the family dog but knows when to disappear before the whole thing gets awkward or uncomfortable.  

Does God love the way we do?  Does God love mankind in general but have trouble dealing with us as individual people?  If it is our fall back, is it God's as well?  That is the difficulty in trying to maintain a safe distance from God.  We are not sure we want God to maintain the same distance with us.  There is a bit of an attraction to the idea that God comes when He is called but it also means we are alone.  Furthermore, the exceptional love of God for us is not the general love of all but the specific love of me.  This is the genius of Luther's catechism.

I believe that God has made me and not simply all humanity or all things -- not where did everything come from but where did I come from and what does my life mean and why does it have value.  I believe that Jesus redeemed me and not simply humanity or a portion of it -- me and my sins He has known and loved me still and determined not to leave me in those sins or the death they caused.  I believe that the Holy Spirit works in me, calling me to faith, gathering me unto the Father around the means of grace, enlightening me to faith and obedience.  God's love is not in words but in the deed of His Son's entrance into the womb of the Virgin, to a righteous life lived for me, to a death upon a cross for my sins, and raised so that I might live forevermore.

God is certainly omnipresent, all powerful, all knowing, all good.  The fact that He fills all things and sustains all that He has made is comforting, to be sure, but His love for us is not in the abstract nor in general but specific.  He has made me.  He has redeemed me.  With the personal love manifest in His Son, Jesus Christ, and the mighty acts by which He has redeemed me -- but not only me.

And, by the way, that presumes a particular faith and not whatever we would choose to believe.  It also presumes, I think, a particular Church -- the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  This is not a communion of versions nor is it a fellowship in general.  As creeds and confessions reflect Scripture to us, this is a specific faith for there is salvation in Christ and in no other.  This is the scandal of the particular that we daily wrestle with in a culture which refuses to believe that faith, truth, morality, or life is anything more than what you define it to be.  The particularity of God is not an affirmation of the radical individualism of our culture but the profound rescue of a particular people for a common life and future. 

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