There are times when God seems absent. It seems that direction and blessing are gone. We have no sense that our prayers are being heard. We may be in a time of stress and trial, where there seems to be no relief in sight. Service that formerly brought us joy becomes dry and unrewarding. And we ask: Why?
At this point, the theological knowledge of God’s Omnipresence doesn’t help. This tells us that God is theoretically present. But, since the evidences of God’s favor seem missing from our life, this theoretical knowledge is no comfort. If God is present, why does God seem to be standing apart from us?
The Psalms often speak of these times. There is no denial here. The reality is that God’s most devoted followers sometimes go through dark times when God seems absent.
I have often reflected on this. It seems strange to me, but it is true: there have been seasons of blessing and seasons of darkness. I don’t know why. There have been times when I seemed to be living under a curse. Then, there have been times of blessing. And, it often doesn’t seem to make sense. I’ve never been able to connect these times of curse with moral faults either — something I notice Job’s companions tried to do for also him — and failed. Times of darkness happen unexpectedly, without warning or underlying reason. (more…)
I originally found this quote in the Appendix to Daniel Steele’s The Gospel of the Comforter. (It is the first part of Note H.) Horace Bushnell was a Congregationalist pastor and theologian, who was quite important — and controversial — in his day. See: Wikipedia, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Many a time nothing is wanting but to speak as to a soul already hungry and thirsty, or, if not consciously so, ready to hunger and thirst, as soon as the bread and water of life are presented. If the problem is to get souls under sin inspired again, which it certainly is, then it is required that the preacher shall drop lecturing on religion and preach it, testify it, prophesy it, speak to faith as being in faith, bring inspiration as being inspired, and so become the vehicle, in his own person, of the power he will communicate; that he may truly beget in the gospel such as will be saved by it. No man is a preacher because he has something like or about a gospel in his head. He really preaches only when his person is the living embodiment, the inspired organ of the gospel; in that manner no mere human power, but the demonstration of a Christly and divine power. Such preaching has had, in former times, effects so remarkable. At present we are almost all under the power, more or less, of the age in which we live. Infected with naturalism ourselves and having hearers, that are so, we can hardly find what account to make of our barrenness.
— Horace Bushnell, Nature and the Supernatural: As Together Constituting the One System of God (1858).
An old prayer:
grant us, we pray,
the spirit of Christian reconciliation and meekness,
that we may heartily forgive every injury
and be reconciled with our enemies.
Grant us to overcome the malevolence and offenses of people
with Christian meekness and true love of our neighbor.
We further beseech Thee, O Lord,
to grant to our enemies true peace and forgiveness of sins;
and do not allow them to leave this life without true faith
and sincere conversion.
And help us repay evil with goodness,
and to remain safe from the temptations of the devil
and from all the perils which threaten us,
in the form of visible and invisible enemies. Amen.
An interesting admission from a man who was a strong defender of the penal substitution theory of the atonement:
The demand that the Atonement shall be exhibited in vital relation to a new life in which sin is overcome… is entirely legitimate, and it touches a weak point in the traditional Protestant doctrine. Dr. [Thomas] Chalmers tells us that he was brought up — such was the effect of the current orthodoxy upon him — in a certain distrust of good works. Some were certainly wanted, but not as being themselves salvation, only, as he puts it, as tokens of justification. It was a distinct stage in his religious progress when he realized that true justification sanctifies, and that the soul can and ought to abandon itself spontaneously and joyfully to do the good that it delights in… An atonement that does not regenerate… is not an atonement in which men can be asked to believe.
Christian readers need to continually remind themselves: the Old Testament believers had no developed doctrine of the afterlife. Whereas, in much of Christianity the idea of the afterlife — of rewards and punishments in the world to come — dominates the thinking of believers. This has become such a commonplace idea in Christianity, we must consciously remind ourselves that it is missing (for the most part) from the thinking of the Old Testament writers.
It’s not just Christians who may be surprised — or even shocked — by the absence of this theme. There are some observers who have theorized that religion exists as a way of addressing the fear of death. If that were the case, it would be impossible to account for the Jewish religion in Old Testament times (or: the religion of the ancient Greeks at the time of Homer, either. Just read The Iliad sometime.).
Because the believers of Old Testament times had no developed doctrine of the afterlife, they tended to see the issues of right & wrong / rewards & punishments as playing themselves out in this life. You can see this clearly in the book of Proverbs, for example: do right and things will go well for you, do wrong and you will suffer. (more…)
Great words from Charles Wesley:
“Let us plead for faith alone,
faith which by our works is shown;
God it is who justifies,
only faith the grace applies.
“Active faith that lives within,
conquers hell and death and sin,
hallows whom it first made whole,
forms the Savior in the soul.
“Let us for this faith contend,
sure salvation is the end;
heaven already is begun,
everlasting life is won.
“Only let us persevere
till we see our Lord appear,
never from the Rock remove,
saved by faith which works by love.”
— Charles Wesley (See: “Let Us Plead for Faith Alone.”)
In this view, there is no separation between faith and works, or between faith and spiritual formation.
The same faith that sets us right with God is also the faith that: “conquers hell and death and sin, hallows whom it first made whole, forms the Savior in the soul.”
We know that the church is called to be a witness to Christ. To what extent is the church today a credible witness to Christ?
The church is called to attest the truth of the Gospel to the world. This testimony, however, stands related to the fact that even in this world the church is a sign of the destiny of the human race to be renewed in the future of God’s kingdom as a fellowship in freedom, justice and peace. The more the church — and the churches as a part of Christianity as a whole — actually show themselves to be such a sign to human eyes, the greater will be their authority among us.
— Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (Volume 3) “Foreword” p xv.
Such witness is going on at the local level: here and there in churches that are faithfully seeking to live out their faith. They don’t make the news (maybe), but their life together is showing the world what freedom, justice and peace can mean — not as a political position, but as a lived-out reality. (more…)
Yet, it is also such a difficult issue. When there is a deep wound, the pain is still there, and the anger still arises. In times like this, we wonder: do the words mean anything? When time and time again, you have to pray “Lord, give me the grace to forgive my enemy” you have to wonder if there is ever hope for you. There have been many times, when I have wondered this about myself.
And, I know I’m not alone in having this problem. Those people who have done things that have caused wounds — especially those who have done it quite deliberately and knowingly — are hard to forgive. There are people I know who have been treated unfairly and unjustly. There are people I know who have been abused. And, the problem with forgiveness is that it seems to say that all that was okay. To let go of the anger and the outrage seems to give in to injustice — to give permission for their abuser to do it again to someone else. (more…)
Lord Jesus Christ,
you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross
that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace:
So clothe us in your Spirit
reaching forth our hands in love,
may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you;
for the honor of your Name. Amen.
In 1727, I read Mr. Law’s ‘Christian Perfection,’ and ‘Serious Call,’ and more explicitly resolved to be all devoted to God, in body, soul, and spirit. In 1730 I began to be homo unius libri [a man of one book] to study (comparatively) no book but the Bible. I then saw, in a stronger light than ever before, that only one thing is needful, even faith that worketh by the love of God and man, all inward and outward holiness; and I groaned to love God with all my heart, and to serve Him with all my strength.
— John Wesley, Journal (for more quotes along this line, see: HOW MR. WESLEY WAS LED INTO THE LIGHT OF FULL SALVATION).
When I was just starting out in Christian pastoral ministry (long ago) I was drawn to the writings of Paul for preaching material. It read more like theology to me — it seemed more about ideas and morality — and seemed a better fit for the needs of a three-point sermon outline. I could simply draw from Paul’s writings my point #1, point #2 and so forth. All my points were Biblical (from my point of view at the time) since they each had a verse or a phrase from one of Paul’s letters attached to them.
What I was missing was that all these assertions Paul makes, all the apparently abstract theology and moralizing, was, in truth, reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus — working out its implications for first century believers. The Epistles must take us back to the Gospels — or else, we are just not getting it. The Gospel message we need to communicate is the story of Jesus. (more…)
I don’t know where such ideas come from — but a moment of thought will dispel them. The great Bible characters did not have lives that were devoid of difficulties or setbacks or griefs or disappointments. If this did not happen with them, how can I reasonably expect it for myself? Jesus grieved over Jerusalem. The apostle Paul knew setbacks and discouragements in his ministry. How can I suppose my life can be free from such things?
The path of the Lord is not easy, it is worthwhile. Those who choose to live as Christ has taught make a positive contribution to life — to their own life and to the lives of others. We move along a difficult path characterized by faith and love and hope. And, by doing so, we bring more faith and hope and love into the world. (more…)
… from hence we may learn, first, that a catholic spirit is not speculative latitudinarianism. It is not an indifference to all opinions: this is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being “driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine,” is a great curse, not a blessing, an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit has not now his religion to seek. He is fixed as the sun in his judgement concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine. It is true, he is always ready to hear and weigh whatsoever can be offered against his principles; but as this does not show any wavering in his own mind, so neither does it occasion any. He does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavour to blend them into one. Observe this, you who know not what spirit ye are of: who call yourselves men of a catholic spirit, only because you are of a muddy understanding; because your mind is all in a mist; because you have no settled, consistent principles, but are for jumbling all opinions together. Be convinced, that you have quite missed your way; you know not where you are. You think you are got into the very spirit of Christ; when, in truth, you are nearer the spirit of Antichrist. Go, first, and learn the first elements of the gospel of Christ, and then shall you learn to be of a truly catholic spirit.
— John Wesley, “The Catholic Spirit.“
Boze Herrington gives us a heart-rending account of his involvement in a prayer group (associated with the International House of Prayer) that evolved into a dangerous cult. The account centers around the death of the cult leader’s wife (Boze’s friend) Bethany. He writes: “But it is clear that when Bethany died, she was part of a community shrouded in fear and hatred, a community where those who spoke out were treated as though they didn’t exist. Their loves, desires, opinions, feelings, and whole personalities were invalidated, all in the name of God.” At The Atlantic here: The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult.
Jonathan Merritt on the public’s response to Christian leaders: “The point is that people don’t like mean people and judgmental people and power-hungry people, regardless of their religion. Most people dislike Christian jerks because they are jerks, not because they are Christian. (According to a 2013 Barna poll, about 51% of self-identified Christians are characterized by having the attitudes and actions that are “Pharisaical” as opposed to “Christlike.”)” Here: What the Pope’s popularity says about American culture. (more…)
Some Things Christians Could Agree Upon Even If They End Up Having To Agree to Disagree (About Gay & Lesbian Issues)
The controversy in the Church over the morality of same gender sex has flared up again lately with the appearance of a new wave of books on the subject. Now evangelical and (otherwise) conservative authors are advocating the moral acceptance of same gender sex — for those who are so inclined. (This includes one book that I find rather interesting myself.) And, there has been a strong and angry reaction against this — causing one publisher to be removed from the National Religious Broadcasters. While the controversy has entered a new stage, it still appears that Christians are bitterly opposed on this issue. In the United Methodist Church, there has been talk of schism over the issue — though I personally doubt that that will happen. All in all, Christians seem no closer to being able to agree with one another about the morality of same gender sex than they ever were.
There are two opposing views. I call them Side A & Side B. “To put the difference in simple, perhaps overly simple terms: SideB believes that gay/homosexual sex is immoral. SideA by contrast believes that gay/homosexual sex is morally equal to heterosexual sex.”
And, one might wonder, in the face of a disagreement so bitter, divisive and deep, whether there could possibly be any common cause among the disputants. Are there, in fact, some things Christians could agree upon, even if they find they disagree on the morality of same gender sex?
Well, yes. As a matter of fact, I think there are. (more…)