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
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
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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