For church last Sunday, I attended the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, its Sunday school class on patristic interpretation of the Gospel of John, and the “Pen church.”
Here are some items:
A. The pastor at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church was talking about rationalizing away the darkness. He told a story about when he grew up in Wisconsin, where the sunset was at 9:30 at night, and he would be reading in bed. He did not want to get up to turn on the light, so he tried to convince himself while the sun was setting that there was just enough sunlight for him to read. He told another story about when he was in the fourth grade, and his dad told him before he went out to play with his friends to head on home when he saw headlights. His response to that was to go where there were no roads, so he would see no headlights and thus could keep on playing with his friends. The pastor likened that to how we try to rationalize our darkness: how we may attempt to interpret the Bible to justify what we are doing, rather than trying to live according to its standard.
I won’t comment much here. This is not a very comfortable topic for me. When it comes to such things as forgiving others and loving my neighbor, I do try to bring the Bible down a few notches.
B. The teacher at the Sunday school class about patristic interpretation of the Gospel of John was contrasting ancient patristic approaches to the Bible to modern-day Enlightenment historical-critical approaches. He seemed to be assuming that his audience adheres to the latter, whereas the former would be something that is foreign to them. I was wondering to what extent that would be the case. On the one hand, within evangelicalism, at least, I have heard Old Testament or New Testament stories being treated as an allegory for the spiritual life, or Old Testament figures presented as types of Christ. That is similar to patristic exegesis. On the other hand, I could sense within the audience a recognition of the importance of interpreting biblical passages in light of their context, and I would not be surprised if they conclude that the fathers, at times, went too far and imported extraneous material into their interpretation of the biblical text. It will be interesting to see how they respond.
C. The teacher shared an interpretation that Gregory of Nyssa made of Matthew 5:6, in which Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (which has the same Greek word as justice). What is righteousness, or justice? Gregory engaged the philosophical answer that justice was giving to people according to their worth. Gregory said that Christians hunger for a higher kind of justice: one in which God gives to people, apart from their merit. Ultimately, since Christ is righteousness (I Corinthians 1:30), Christ is the one after whom his followers hunger and thirst.
D. At the “Pen church,” the pastor began a series on being resilient. He told the story of Jacob: Jacob was continually scheming and fighting to get his own way, all the way back to his birth. But he came to the point where he surrendered to God and decided to let God fight his battles. I thought back to a Tim Keller sermon that I heard about Jacob: Keller said that the point of Jacob’s wrestling with God is that God is the one with whom Jacob was actually wrestling all his life.
E. Do I have any experience of God fighting my battles? Well, I can say that there were times when I expected the worst, and the worst did not come. Life does not work that way all of the time for everyone. I doubt that I am especially favored by God, while they are not. I have uphill battles that they may lack. It’s just life, I guess.
F. The pastor told a story about when he was in college, and he did not have a car. He filled out tons of resumes to get a job, and he reluctantly took a job at a Chinese restaurant. He was only there for three months, but, during that time, he led a fellow employee to Christ. That affirmed to him that God was with him wherever he ends up. But he also felt that God had him there for a purpose: so that the employee would know of God’s love and enter into a relationship with Christ.