The Not Preached God

Luther talked often about the “Hidden God.” He was intrigued by God’s chosen vehicle of self-revelation. God always chose to show up in the most unexpected places, the settings where man would never look for Him.

He suggested that where God does not show Himself is just as important to understand as where He does reveal Himself. Listen to this thought provoking quote by Luther.

We have to argue in one way about God or the will of God as preached, revealed, offered, and worshiped, and in another way about God as he is not preached, not revealed, not offered, not worshiped. To the extent, therefore, that God hides himself and wills to be unknown to us, it is no business of ours.

We must understand where God is not preached. God chooses the sermon. He chooses the location of his self-disclosure. In other places he is clear, the cross and resurrection is the locus of God’s unveiling. He is preached there! Anywhere else, we must recognize there is no divine sermon—you won’t hear of him if you don’t tune in at Calvary.

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Made for Others

God did not fashion us with the ability to see ourselves. Eyes were made to see the world and the “others” around us. Created to look outside of ourselves, it is no surprise that freedom, joy and purpose align when “others” are the focus. Genesis 1-2 reveals humanity looking up to the Creator and outward to his creation. Adam’s marching orders were to look out for his spouse, the living creatures and the earth. His vocation was other-focused and outward-postured.

Genesis 3 is a tragic interruption to the freedom of self-forgetfulness. Humanity’s rebellion was an inward turn—concern for one’s own desires, pleasures and understanding of reality trumped any thought of the “other.” That moment defined humanity. Adam and Eve looked down and realized they were naked…self-concern and self-preservation were enthroned. The “other” became a stepping stone, a means to satisfying the desires of the self. Made for others and enslaved to ourselves, this is the judgment under which we rest (Rom 1:18-32).

In the early 1900’s, a well-known paper in London sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking “What is wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton, famed theologian and author, responded with a two-word letter to the inquiry: “I am.” This admission is the starting point for every human to move back toward wellness. We must own the reality that we exploit and damage the “others” we were made to serve and love.

Sin is deeply personal. The “others” have names. Sin damages people. Sin offends and grieves the Triune God. My self-devotion is a stench to my Creator and a weapon against my fellow human-being. Repentance takes complete responsibility for the rancor in our souls. It is movement back toward the Creator, agreement on his assessment of our loyalties. It puts the needed cry on our lips: “Lord, have mercy on me, heal me, for I have sinned against you” (Ps 41:4). The need for cleansing, forgiveness and healing drives us to the how.

How is beautiful. God comes down. In Christ we see humanity’s design. In Christ we see humanity’s Healer. Looking up to his Father and out to his fractured creation, the outward postured God rescues us. The judgment earned by my self-worship is endured by the Son of God, the one true worshipper of the Father. The chains of self-slavery are shattered by Jesus Christ, the free God who bound himself to the cross.

The saving work of the Triune God is not exhausted with forgiveness, cleansing and right standing. He gives us new hearts. He places the Holy Spirit within us. He bends the inward curve outward. He makes us human. The Trinity is devoted to restoring what was lost, remaking what was broken and ushering us into the freedom of otherness.

 

C.S. Lewis on Pride and Humility

This is an excerpt from the Screwtape Letters written by C.S. Lewis. If you are not familiar with the book it is a fictional account of a demon named Screwtape who advises his nephew, Wormwood on how best to tempt a the man he has been assigned to into sin and, eventually, into hell. The book is comprised of Screwtape’s letters to Wormwood. This one captures the dynamic of humility and pride.

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,

The most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion. No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of “grace” for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation! This is very bad.

I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble”, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed. 

But there are other profitable ways of fixing his attention on the virtue of Humility. By this virtue, as by all the others, our Enemy wants to turn the man’s attention away from self to Him, and to the man’s neighbors. All the abjection and self-hatred are designed, in the long run, solely for this end; unless they attain this end they do us little harm; and they may even do us good if they keep the man concerned with himself, and, above all, if self-contempt can be made the starting-point for contempt of other selves, and thus for gloom, cynicism, and cruelty.

You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self- forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point. The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible.

To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the, fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long- term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.

His whole effort, therefore, will be to get the man’s mind off the subject of his own value altogether. He would rather the man thought himself a great architect or a great poet and then forgot about it, than that he should spend much time and pains trying to think himself a bad one. Your efforts to instill either vainglory or false modesty into the patient will therefore be met from the Enemy’s side with the obvious reminder that a man is not usually called upon to have an opinion of his own talents at all, since he can very well go on improving them to the best of his ability without deciding on his own precise niche in the temple of Fame.

You must try to exclude this reminder from the patient’s consciousness at all costs. The Enemy will also try to render real in the patient’s mind a doctrine which they all profess but find it difficult to bring home to their feelings—the doctrine that they did not create themselves, that their talents were given them, and that they might as well be proud of the color of their hair. But always and by all methods the Enemy’s aim will be to get the patient’s mind off such questions, and yours will be to fix it on them. Even of his sins the Enemy does not want him to think too much: once they are repented, the sooner the man turns his attention outward, the better the Enemy is pleased,

 

Your affectionate uncle SCREWTAPE

Two Kinds of People

C.S. Lewis says there are only two types of people in the world.

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened. ”

Seriousness is the ground of humor

C.S. Lewis brilliantly describes how taking one another seriously in friendship forms a solid foundation for humor.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

Own It

Repentance is ownership. We own our sin. We own our failure before God. We own our rebellion. We own our iniquity. We own our transgression. We agree with God, we have fallen short of his glory. We take full responsibility. Repentance was the launching point of Luther’s 95 Theses. Thesis 1: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Repentance is a life-style, a posture, a way of being—the life of the Christian.

Faith is ownership. We grasp onto forgiveness. We hold fast to an imputed righteousness that comes to us from Christ. We trust that condemnation is no longer for us and has been settled at the cross. We lean on the certainty of a future, unending, resurrected existence. We embrace being heirs of the world. We agree with God’s verdict on us. We own his promises to us. We take our seat at the table he has prepared for us. Luther said that faith is “a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times.”

The Christian is called to own it. We own our sin. We embrace God’s provision for our sin in Christ. Repentance takes full responsibility for sin. Faith takes hold of Christ’s righteousness and trusts fully in his substitutionary work. Repentance and faith are two expressions of radical ownership.

 

The Freedom of Being a Creature

Luther loved to speak about the great privilege of being a creature fashioned by God. The first true thing about us is that we are creatures of God. We do not determine our existence. We are fundamentally dependent. Creation establishes God as the ultimate giver and us as the ultimate receivers.

This relationship never changes—though sin would lead us to believe that these roles can be reversed. In fact, sin is an attempt to transgress the creature/creator boundary. To be a creature is to be wonderfully free. Our life is not up to us. Think for a moment on the vocation of a creature. What does it entail to be God’s image-bearing creatures? What are the benefits?

  • We receive our initial existence
  • We receive our ongoing existence
  • We depend upon him for all that we need
  • We are made to do all that he asks
  • Privilege and grace is at the core of our existence
  • We are free to be creatures and to let God be God
  • Creatureliness provides a boundary that proves to be our freedom

In the story line of Scripture, we can see the purpose and freedom of being a creature given, lost, and then restored in Christ. The fall was a giant leap upward. It was the first human attempt to transgress creaturely boundaries. The result was the fall, which left us less than the creatures God intended.

All sin is of this same nature—it is a rejection of our creatureliness. Viewing sin through this lens helps us better understand our refusal to receive from God and our incessant endeavor to become him. In our sin, we grasp at omnipotence and omniscience. We try to operate as though we are omnipresent and all wise. We interact with others as though we are sovereign and worthy of worship.

In short, our sin always betrays the fact that we are trying to be someone and something that we are not. We are trying to be God. This is idolatry. We seek to dethrone God and place ourselves in his rightful position. Such rebellion is worthy of death. In this graphic, sin would look like pushing past the boundaries of the box into the realm of the creator.

We were made with good limits. Physical exhaustion may be an attempt at omnipresence. Sinful independence and arrogance toward God could well be grasping for his self-sufficiency. Believing you call the shots and striving to control everything is attempted theft of God’s sovereignty.

Trusting your own wisdom above all others transgresses the creature boundary, it is a striving for foreknowledge and omniscience. Every aspect of the divine being becomes the battle-ground of the sinful creature. We want to wipe out God and be him. The cross of Jesus Christ says at least this much.

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The gospel is the good news of God becoming a creature to take the punishment for rebellious creatures in order to restore them back to their appropriate creatureliness. It is the most amazing story ever told. The Son reveals Creator and creature. In him, we see who God is and who we were intended to be. We behold in him a humble God who refuses to take advantage of his deity using it instead to serve humanity.

In him we see a creature that loves God, trusts God, obeys God, loves people, and goes about his daily tasks with joy and purpose. It is through his perfect life and his perfect death that our punishment is removed and we are restored. Through the justifying and cleansing work of the cross we stand in the right before the Trinity.

Through the indwelling Spirit and his mighty work, we are being remade into the creatures we were intended to be. God is in the business of making us human once again. The glory of the gospel is that it is powerful enough to make us creatures.

Through the gospel, we are liberated from our endless strivings for deity. We are relieved of thrones too large for us. We are freed from thoughts too high for us. We are released from trying to know all things and control all things.

The weight of trying to be God is lifted from our shoulders. In other words, our sin is put to death. We are free to be who we are: creatures. By the gospel, we take our rightful place as recipients. We move from subject to object. We move from standing to kneeling. We move from running to resting.

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