On Wednesday, I went to a Missouri Synod Lutheran church’s Advent service. It will have a Wednesday Advent service every week until Christmas (I think).
The pastor was referring to J.B. Phillips’ 1952 book, Your God Is Too Small. The pastor said that, over sixty years after that book came out, many people’s God is still too small. How so? He gave two examples. For one, we set limitations on what God can or will do on account of our negative experiences. Second, we bring God down to our level. The pastor shared about his own past difficulty in forgiving his brother after they had a falling out. The pastor officiated at his brother’s wedding and was pronouncing blessing on his brother, when inside of his mind was lingering anger at what his brother had done. The pastor said that we say to ourselves that God does not forgive someone who has hurt or angered us, because, if God forgives that person, that means that we have to forgive him or her, too.
Somewhere in the course of the sermon, the pastor talked about how creation praises God. A Psalm we had read, Psalm 96, presents seas, fields, and trees rejoicing at God’s reign. The pastor also referred to Jesus’ response in Luke 19:40 to the Pharisees’ criticism of the disciples of Jesus who were enthusiastically praising Jesus: if the disciples are silent, the very stones will cry out! And when did a stone cry out? At the resurrection of Jesus, when the stone of Jesus’ tomb was moved away. The pastor presented that as the solution to the reluctance to praise God that he earlier discussed.
The pastor also talked about how creation is magnificent—-he mentioned the Grand Canyon. Yet, he also observed that creation is fallen, with its earthquakes.
Here are some of my reflections:
A. At the “Word of Faith” church that I attended on Sunday morning, we sang a hymn that was completely new to me. It was called “So Will I (100 Billion X).” It starts out by discussing how nature reflects God’s glory, praises God, and obeys God’s instructions. If creation does this, so will I, the song goes! Later, the song focuses on what Jesus did: Jesus left his grave behind, surrendered to God, and died out of love for people to save them. If Jesus did those things, so will I, the song went. What the pastor said about creation praising God reminded me of that song. (BTW, I see from an Internet search that the song is controversial because it says that creatures are “Evolving in pursuit of what You said,” implying, to critics, an endorsement of the theory of evolution.)
B. How does nature glorify God? In a sense, it does so through its order and beauty. Psalm 91 talks about this when it affirms that the heavens declare the glory of God. God in the Hebrew Bible is also said to have created in wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 3:19; 8:22; Jeremiah 10:12). But, according to Romans 8:18-22, creation groans, in its state of decay, as it eagerly awaits the glory that will be revealed in the children of God, presumably in the eschaton. Could Psalm 96 relate to that? Many relate the seas, fields, and trees rejoicing as creation’s current praise of God, but could Psalm 96 be describing how creation will rejoice when God renews it in the eschaton? (There have been different scholarly views about whether some of the Psalms conveyed an eschatological message.) And could Jesus’ reference to the stones crying out be conveying a similar theme? Then there is Jesus’ resurrection, which inaugurates a new creation.
C. I have questions about some of the pastor’s points, and I am not saying this to nitpick, but rather to think through issues. The Grand Canyon is beautiful, but God did not directly create it in the beginning: rather, it came about over time. And earthquakes: are they an indication of a fallen creation? Did they originate after Adam and Eve sinned? I have difficulty believing that God created fault lines after the sin of Adam and Eve: they seem to be integral to how the earth is. Plus, some have argued that at least some natural disasters perform a function of stabilizing the planet. There are Christians who say this and then blame humans whose homes are destroyed in the natural disasters: why did humans build their homes there? Tess actually made that point in an episode of Touched by an Angel, the one about the tornado-chaser. I do not go that far, since where exactly could a person in the U.S. build his or her home and be safe? You build on the coasts, and there are hurricanes. You build in the far west, and there are earthquakes. You build in the midwest, and there are tornadoes.
D. Related to (C.), even if the Grand Canyon is not the best example of God’s handiwork, since God did not directly make it (unless you want to say that, for some reason, God providentially made it come into being in the course of time), I can understand the view that the earth has a wise order, which is beneficial to human beings. Yes, our planet is just the right distance from the sun, and, yes, one can argue that, in a vast universe, there would be at least one planet that would support life. But this planet does not just have life: it has so many things that can help human beings, in terms of their health.
E. Also related to (C.), maybe God created the cosmos in a state of decay, and that does not contradict Scripture. When Romans 8:20 states that God subjected creation to decay, does that necessarily mean that God did so after Adam and Eve sinned? Could God have created it in a state of decay in order to redeem it, as the blind man of John 9 was blind so that the works of God might be manifest? One can argue the opposite: God pronounced creation “very good” in Genesis 1, and Romans 5:12-21 presents death entering the world through the sin of Adam. Still, many scientists have said that entropy has existed since the origin of the universe, is integral to it, and actually enabled order to come into being in sections of it.
F. I appreciated the pastor sharing his story about his struggle to forgive. I am sometimes baffled that pastors would struggle with this, but they are human, like everyone else. And maybe his struggle has made him understanding. I remember calling in to a Christian program, and the host of the show seemed baffled that anyone struggles with forgiveness. From his impatient tone, I wondered who he was to judge other people.
G. The pastor said that we feel that, if God forgives someone, we have to forgive that person, too, so we tell ourselves that God does not forgive him or her. The two do not obviously go together, in my mindset (which may be flawed). Just because God likes a person, does that mean I have to do so? Not everyone like the same people! In addition, I would hope that even my worse enemy would find a relationship with God. That does not mean that I want to have anything to do with that person. Let that person connect with God and leave me alone! But where people may connect the concepts is here: we should love those God loves, and grudges hinder that from taking place.
H. The pastor’s point about how we set limitations on God due to our past experiences resonated with me. I had been to the doctor that morning, and, in going through my medical history, I talked with the doctor about my depression and anxiety: why I am depressed and anxious. She recommended a behavioral therapist, who could offer me a different perspective. I asked for the person’s card, leaving that option open. Maybe the therapist can offer me alternative ways to look at life. But there are lingering doubts. Can I really change? And is there any way that the therapist would make me look at the world differently from how I see it now? A lot of people are not particularly nice! That is not all in my head! And what if the therapist asks me to do something that I do not want to do? Anyway, this is tangentially related to what the pastor talked about: it’s the question of whether new beginnings are possible for everyone.
I will leave the comments open, in case anyone wants to add insights or respond to what I say. Feel free to disagree. I most likely will not get into debates, though.
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