God can’t do it that way again?

Often I hear things like: “we can’t do it that way anymore”, “that would never work today”, or even “God won’t do it that way anymore”.  Times have changed, we’re told.

As someone who does not go in for innovation for innovation’s sake, this line of reasoning doesn’t quite sit with me. And not just for the sake of the theological principle that God can do whatever pleases Him.  For historical reasons as well. Consider that in 1946 the dean of Harvard Divinity School had counted the tradition of large-scale evangelistic preaching to be discredited entirely.  It was the realm of hucksters and hacks.  The very idea of evangelism was loaded with images of charlatans who used big tent revivalism for personal gain.*

And then a few short years later, a young Billy Graham rose up in the public eye. His ministry could at the very least be described as, ahem, fruitful.

The lesson?  No one gets to tell God who He’ll use or how He’ll use them.  And no one gets to say what is over and that God can’t or won’t work that way again.

Billy Graham in 1955

Billy Graham in 1955

 

 

*see page 35 of Ross Douthat’s excellent book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

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Love for love’s sake

ElvisMost of all I love you ’cause you’re you.  Elvis Presley

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernard of ClairvauxWe are to love God for Himself… nothing is more reasonable; nothing is more profitable. Bernard of Clairvaux

 

 

 

 

The King of rock and roll and one the greatest medieval preachers.  One wouldn’t think they have much overlap in fundamental messages but when it comes to the nature of love, you’d be wrong.

To love is to desire another. To love rightly is to desire not just what another can give to you.  It is not to love merely how they make you feel.  It is not to seek self-gratification in another.

It is to love them for them.  No more appropriate is this than when we speak of loving God, our first and most important duty, both Old and New Covenant.  Can we love God not only for what He gives to us, though his gifts are many?  Can we love God not for how he enriches us or how he makes us feel?  Can we love God for God?

The Lord – The Great Disturber

A Troubled Soul - Ferdinand Hodler

A Troubled Soul – Ferdinand Hodler

God as comforter.*  The Lord as the giver of inner peace.  Gentle Jesus, who never ruffles feathers.  These sorts of things come naturally to us. It may be counter-intuitive to think of God as one who disturbs. But to really begin to consider God revealed in Christ is to become not more serene but more unsettled.

Consider how most responded to Jesus in the Gospels.  Words so frequently used are amazed, astonishedmarvelled.  He causes hearts to burn.  These are not reactions to a milquetoast guru.  They are the reactions of the disturbed and unsettled; those whose calm pond of life has just had a big rock dropped in.

This is because God revealed in Christ is not something to be coolly considered. We don’t analyze him with detachment. When we’re coming close to who he really is, his claims start to bear down on us. It is not as much that we can know God but that this knowledge knows us.

…God is not a fit object for man’s detached scrutiny. You cannot fix God at the end of a telescope or microscope and say ‘How interesting!’  God is not interesting. He is deeply upsetting. The same is true of Jesus Christ.  (John Stott, Basic Christianity)

We has thought intellectually to examine him; we find he is spiritually examining us…  We study Aristotle and are intellectually edified thereby; we study Jesus and are, in the profoundest way, spiritually disturbed.  (Patrick Carnegie Simpson, The Fact of Christ) 

Is it so strange to think of God as the Great Disturber?  Consider the reactions of the four children in C S Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when they first hear of Aslan. They are all deeply unsettled. Lucy, Susan, and Peter are unsettled and intrigued. Edmund (who has something to hide) is unsettled and sickened. Reading this book to my own children last night – this very passage – I saw like reactions upon their faces. Hearing of Aslan alongside the characters in the story produced in them the same intrigued unsettledness. They weren’t merely interested, they were disturbed.

 

 

*there is real comfort from God, to be sure, but it comes on the other side of being unsettled.