Friday, October 30, 2009

Saving Faith
Mk. 10:46-52[1]
I never cease to be amazed at whom and what people put their faith in. I remember the “Heaven’s Gate” cult, a few years ago. They were the folks who believed that there was a spaceship hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet. They thought they had to commit suicide in order to be “transported” to the spaceship and escape this world. It amazes me that anyone in this day and time would believe something so outlandish. What amazes me more is that someone was able to convince them to believe in that. I wonder what kind of person could do that.
I also never cease to be amazed at what people insist is necessary to “faith.” For many people in our culture, in order to be a Christian you have to believe in the existence of Satan and a “literal, burning hell.” Funny, I always thought that the essence of Christian faith is believing in Jesus! I realize that what many of those folks are saying is that if you are willing to believe in the existence of Satan, then you probably take the Bible seriously. But I have a real problem saying I “believe in” Satan or I “believe in” hell. I “believe in” God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his son our lord; and I believe in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, and in the good news of the new creation. I don’t “believe in” sin and death, violence and evil, Satan and hell. Those things may or may not be “real”, but I refuse to “believe in” them!
In our Gospel lesson for today, we find one of the encounters in which Jesus heals a person who is suffering. The interesting thing about these healings in the Gospels is that when Jesus heals someone, usually with just a simple word and not all the falderal other “healers” used, he insisted that it was their own faith that did it! He said to them, “your faith has made you well.” But the way he said it could also be translated, “your faith has saved you” (cf. Eph. 2:8!). The faith that healed them and the faith that saved them was one and the same. I think to some extent, the reason his did “double duty” was because it was faith in Jesus, the one who really and truly shows us what God is like. And who shows us that God really and truly understands what it is like to be fully human. And who shows us that God has fully entered our experience and has done all that needs to be done to really and truly redeem us all. When they put their faith in Jesus, that’s who they were believing in, whether they were aware of it or not.
Not everybody put their faith in Jesus, to be sure. The religious leaders of his day whose self-serving hypocrisy he exposed didn’t. They saw him for the threat to their position that he was. And the wealthy aristocrats who were oppressing the common people by gobbling up all the land into vast estates didn’t trust him. They saw him for the threat to their prestige that he was.
But the common people seemed to flock to him. They came to him in throngs, and they rejoiced over his message of righting the wrongs, comforting the suffering, delivering the oppressed, and proclaiming the nearness of God. I think there is a built-in appeal to that message, especially for people who are down-trodden. But I also wonder what it was about his person that inspired their faith and trust. Think about the people you trust. I mean really, really trust. We all have friends we trust so much that we will tell them our deepest, darkest secrets. Why do we do that? Because we believe they will not betray our trust. Many of us share our lives with another human being—something that’s not always easy or fun to do! Why do we do that? Because there is something about them that makes it hard for us to imagine life without them.
So what was it about Jesus that inspired the kind of faith and trust that had a healing and saving quality to it? What was this poor, blind beggar’s faith in? Perhaps he had faith that “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all” (Ps. 34:19). In that sense, perhaps his faith in Jesus was really faith in God. Did he know enough to understand that Jesus was the one uniquely chosen by God to serve as the agent of salvation for God’s people Israel, and through them for all the families of the earth? I doubt it. Did he have the faith that somehow Jesus incarnated God, and therefore represented God to us all? I doubt that too.[2]
So what was it about Jesus that called forth this man’s faith?[3] Well, for one thing, he didn’t rebuke the man and try to silence him like the crowds (and possibly some of the disciples?) did. It seems that Jesus was well known for being “approachable.” So I think he must have put his faith Jesus’ reputation for compassion and mercy.[4] And I think Jesus’ reputation as one committed to the justice of God which showed in that compassion and in his own personal integrity would also inspire faith. And I think Jesus’ vision must have been a part of it—the “kingdom of God” which represents the culmination of all God’s efforts at redeeming this world and all life in it. It’s a vision that inspires hope and joy in the midst of a life that can feel very hopeless and joyless. For this poor blind man on the road from Jericho, Jesus represented his one chance for new life. I think anyone who puts their faith in Jesus to that extent cannot help but experience healing and salvation!
But I think there must have been more to it. For one thing, it’s my impression that most truly “holy” men and women have a certain spiritual presence to them.[5] When you are with them, you sense the presence of God in a way you don’t sense at other times. You see God and you see yourself in a clearer light. To some extent I think Jesus own faith in God must have played a part.[6] When you read the Gospels for indications of Jesus’ own faith, you find one who was absolutely committed to God’s will and God’s way, one who when people came to exalt him pointed them humbly back to God, one who so entrusted himself to God that he was willing to lay down even his very life. [7] I think to some degree Jesus’ own faith in God was what inspired the faith of the blind beggar named Bartimaeus, and it continues to inspire our faith today. Like many people, we place our faith in Jesus because he embodied the message of mercy and justice in real life. But I think even more so we put our faith in Jesus because his very presence puts us in touch with the love and the hope and the joy and the life that is at the heart of all things, and therefore calls forth the best within us. We place our faith in Jesus because through him we experience the one thing that is truly necessary—a genuine encounter with God.[8]

[1] © 2009 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 10/25/09 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Contrast Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.2:235-242, where he presents a more positive view of the content of their faith in Jesus.
[3] Cf. Hendrikus Berkhof, The Christian Faith, 284: faith “rests on and is justified by the totality of the image which the person and life of Jesus evoke.” Cf. Emil Brunner, The Mediator, 341: “The Son of God in whom we are able to believe must be such a one that it is possible to mistake him for an ordinary man.” Cf. also J. A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God, 229: “The Christ is God with a human face.” Cf. further Hans Küng, On Being a Christian, 133, 163, 380, 443, esp. 449-450, where he describes what it means that Jesus was “true man.”
[4] Cf. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Outline for a Book,” in Letters and Papers from Prison, 382, where he refers to Jesus as “the man for others.” Cf. also Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center , 47-48, 62; Berkhof, Christian Faith, 300-302
[5] Cf. Berkhof, Christian Faith, 328: “From Jesus, the Son of God, who is the new man, a wind begins to glow in our life,” the “wind” of the Spirit; cf. also 331: “The Spirit is the name for God himself in his activity among us.” Cf. also Berkhof, Christian Faith, 312-322, where he expresses this idea of God’s “presence” in terms of biblical language of resurrection, glorification, and exaltation to the right hand of God. Cf. also Robinson, Human Face, 123.
[6] Cf. Gerhard Ebeling, “Jesus and Faith,” in Word and Faith, 201-246; cf.also Berkhof, Christian Faith, 286-88.
[7] Cf. Declaration of Faith, 1978 PCUS; adopted by PCUSA in 1991: “Jesus lived with a constant sense of his Father’s presence. He put God’s claim on his life above all else.” Cf. Robinson, Human Face, 189; Küng, On Being a Christian, 443: “it can be said that he, in whom word and deed, teaching and life, being and action, completely coincide, is the embodiment of God’s word and will: God’s word and will in human form.”
[8] Cf. Karl Barth, Word of God and Word of Man, 76, where he asks what it was that drew the men and women of the Bible “out and on to the edge of all experience, thought, and action, to the edge of time and history, and impels them to attempt to leap off into the air, where obviously no [one] can stand.” His answer is their encounter with God

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Save Forever
Heb. 5:1-10; Mk. 10:35-45[1]
I think it’s fair to say that one of the major factors shaping our culture is advertising. What you may not realize is that it’s actually not a recent development. Formal advertising began with the advent of printing. The first ads appeared in European newspapers in the 17th and 18th Centuries. “Advertising” as a separate business really came into its own in the 1920’s. Ever since that day, and certainly since the radio and television era began, “marketing” has been a primary element in sales, and to some extent in business. With the “decline” of many churches, I guess it should be no surprise that we have turned to marketing to rescue us. But the problem with marketing is that you have to promise more than you can deliver in order to get anybody to listen. Think about it—does “new and improved” really mean anything anymore? How much attention do you really pay to commercials? Most people recognize that they’re a “necessary evil,” but if you have a DVR, you simply fast-forward through them. In other words, we have learned to ignore marketing, because it usually means nothing.
Some years ago, major magazines began to study the phenomenon they called “marketing Jesus.” It seems to me putting it that way sets in stark relief the incompatibility between marketing and the Christian faith. Think of it—do we really believe we have to “market” Jesus? How about marketing “grace”? Or let’s get downright ludicrous: how would you go about “selling” eternal life? It seems to me the questions answer themselves. And yet the church marketing business goes on cranking out ads for everything from “our handsome young pastor and his beautiful wife” to “we have more services to offer you and your children” to “we have the biggest cross in town”! I guess I would have to say that if we really think we have to “sell” salvation, we’ve lost the essence of what it means!
I think our discussion of the incarnation might help us here as well. You see, in the New Testament the idea that Jesus incarnated God not only means that Jesus really and truly shows us what God is like. And it not only means Jesus shows us that God really and truly understands what it is like to be fully human. The incarnation also means that by fully entering our reality and fully sharing our humanity, God has done all that needs to be done to really and truly redeem us all. Jesus said it this way: “Son of Man came not to serve but to be served and to give his life as a ransom for the many” (Mk 10:45). “A ransom for the many” is an allusion to Isaiah 53, and there “the many” basically means “everybody.” The book of Hebrews puts it this way: through what he suffered, Jesus has become the source of “eternal salvation.” (Heb. 5:9)
The incarnation is not only about who God is, it’s also about what God is doing—God is in the process of restoring all things. Throughout the ages many have raised questions about the incarnation. One question they’ve asked is, “Why go to all this trouble?” Some might wonder why God doesn’t just give us the information and let us pull ourselves out of our own mess. And the answer is that a restoration of this magnitude is something only God can accomplish.[2] We cannot do it for ourselves. Others have asked why would go to all the trouble of fully entering and sharing our experience. Why not just “say the word” and make everything right again? Because that’s the only way to actually restore our experience of human life—all of it.[3] It can only be restored from within—by God entering it and pouring out the love that can change us all. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus did just that—he went into the abyss of human suffering in order to redeem all of us who have been trapped there.[4][5] There is no depth of suffering in human experience that Jesus did not reach. And the profound love he poured out for us all at the cross changes everything!
But there is another dimension to this. Jesus also restores all human life by pouring new life into it. Through his life and death—and the resurrection that follows it, Jesus also effectively “plants” the “new life” of the resurrection in this world.[6] In one of his parables, Jesus compared the new life of the Kingdom implanted in this world to mustard seed. If you’ve ever worked any property, you know that mustard is a weed that people try to get rid of, but it spreads like crazy. It’s ineradicable. That’s the kind of new life Jesus has implanted in this world. It spreads like Kudzu! And this new life is not merely a return to its original state, but rather it is a transformation of life that points to a completely new creation.[7] The new life Jesus “implanted” in this world changes everything.
Throughout the ages, scholars have debated these matters, while people from all walks of life have doubted them. When the book of Hebrews talks about sacrifices and cleansing, and scholars talk about propitiation and expiation, I don’t think that really does much for most of us these days. [8] What we need is the strength to change our lives that comes from being truly loved. And what we need is the courage that comes from having faith and hope that there is something more to this life than just the endless return of “the way things are.” In Jesus, God acts to give us those gifts. In Jesus, God pours out a love that is able to change even the most stubborn sinner! In Jesus, God injects life into this world that can create in even the most confirmed skeptic the faith and the hope that there truly is something to live for. Faith, hope and love—St. Paul says that they abide when everything else fails. Maybe that’s one reason why the Scripture says Jesus can “save forever” those who trust in him.

[1] © 2009 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 10/18/09 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, 41: “In the Bible it is always God himself who ‘carries’ the people’s sins, and in this way brings about reconciliation. God himself is the atoning God.” Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 178.
[3] Moltmann, The Crucified God, 185, says that it was “Through his suffering and death” that “the risen Christ brings righteousness and life to the unrighteous and the dying.”
[4] cf. Study Catechism, q. 45; cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 91.
[5] Cf. Moltmann, Church in the Power, 95 Moltmann, Crucified God, 246, 277.
[6] Moltmann, Crucified God, 180-86, argues that “the cross of the risen Christ points not to an expiatory sacrifice but to the anticipation of the coming reign of God and indeed in some respects “the incarnation of the coming God in our flesh.” Cf. also pp. 168-71, 175-76.
[7] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 188-89; cf. also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV. 1:13, 110.
[8] Cf. Tom Long, “Bold in the Presence of God: Atonement in Hebrews,” Interpretation 52 (Jan, 1998): 55: the book of Hebrews was addressing people “worn down by a religion that does not seem to heal; fatigued by the burdens of a conscience that will not be cleansed; exhausted by a Jesus who appears unable to help.” In addition, they needed “the gift of the peace of God, the inner conviction, … that one’s life has meaning, purpose, and divine validation.” (p. 59).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

God Knows our Way
Job 23:1-10; Heb. 4:12-16[1]
It’s a strange thing to make a living talking about God. Well, for me it is anyway. I realize there are a lot of folks out there who talk all day long about God and never bat an eye. But I’ve always been keenly aware that whenever I talk about God, what I don’t know by far exceeds what I do know! Because God is beyond our ability to grasp or conceive, we all find ourselves at times saying with Job, “If I go forward, God is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left god hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him” (Job 23:8-9). No matter how hard we may have searched for God, it seems God is nowhere to be found. And so we all find ourselves at times asking with the Psalmist, “Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22:1). We struggle with life and do all that we can to work out our salvation, and yet it still seems that no trace of God can be found. We may ask with the Apostles, “who can be saved?” (Mk. 10:26); I think the real question we’re asking is “can anyone be saved?” Jesus’ answer, “for God all things are possible,” doesn’t quite satisfy Peter. He blurts out, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” I think he may have been asking Jesus, “Have we left everything and followed you for nothing?”
As long as we worship a “hidden” God, we may never permanently dispel our doubts about God and salvation. But in the face of our deepest doubts, the book of Hebrews insists again: “We see Jesus.” The idea that Jesus incarnated God not only means that Jesus really and truly shows us what God is like. It also means Jesus shows us that God really and truly understands what it is like to be fully human. Jesus’ experience of our full humanity assures us that God empathizes with us in every facet of our lives.
As hard as it may be to comprehend, one of the major points in the doctrine of incarnation is that God really knows and understands all of our struggles and sufferings, because in Jesus God experienced them. The idea of the incarnation is not just a matter of God “pretending” to be a human being. [2] It’s a matter of God fully entering our reality and fully sharing our humanity in order to redeem every aspect of human experience. And what this means is that we can be confident that God not only “knows the ways that we take,” (cf. Job 23:10) but also understands and compassionately supports us in everything we have to go through. Hebrews says it this way: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In Jesus, we have an advocate, a sponsor if you will, who is sympathetic because he has fully undergone all that we go through, and he passed every test.
One of the hardest challenges with the “hiddenness” of God is that we have plenty of times in our lives when we may feel like we are forsaken by heaven. But the idea of the incarnation is that the one who fully shared our experience took on even that experience of forsakenness in order to redeem us. Because we all can feel God-forsaken, Jesus became “God-forsaken” for us all on the cross to show us definitively that none of us is ever truly forsaken. Let me add that I do not believe that God actually “forsook” Jesus on the cross. But I do believe that Jesus actually felt “God-forsaken” in the agony he underwent. But even in the depth of his despair, God was there with him.
It may seem strange to us that “God” would undergo such an experience. In fact, most of us have probably believed that it isn’t possible for God to undergo the same experiences we do, simply because that’s what goes with being “God.” But that would be to embrace a view of God that is not biblical. The biblical view of God is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer articulated it in the last year of his life, “God allows himself to be edged out of the world and on to the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us.”[3]
In one sense, then, the incarnation is about who God is. But in another sense, it is about understanding what God is doing in this world. Part of the answer is that God is in the process of restoring all things, as I’ve already said. From this perspective, the answer to the question can anyone be saved is a resounding “Yes!”[4] But to some extent, that can still leave us feeling “God-forsaken,” struggling with our lives in the frustration of feeling like no matter how hard we may search for God, God is nowhere to be found. And so the other part of the message of the incarnation is that God has entered our experience in a dramatic way to leave us a tangible reminder that “God himself participates in our suffering and takes our pains on himself.”[5] The cross is the most powerful demonstration that, no matter what our experience with life may be, “he knows the way that I take” (Job 23:10).[6]

[1] © 2009 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 10/11/09 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 240
[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter to Eberhard Bethge dated July 16, 1944, from Letters and Papers from Prison. He continues, “Man’s religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world; he uses God as a Deus ex machine. The Bible however directs him to the powerlessness and suffering of God; only a suffering God can help.” Cf. also Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, rev. ed., 828-891; on this specific letter, cf. ibid., 868-69. Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 47.
[4] William C. Placher and David Willis-Watkins, Belonging to God: A Commentary on A Brief Statement of Faith, 60: “The aim and goal of God’s living among us as a human is to deliver, restore, and heal the human condition. The incarnation is God’s establishing solidarity with humanity, not just to comfort persons, but actively to deliver them.”
[5] Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, 39. He says, “If God takes this road with Christ, if God himself was in Christ, then Christ brings God’s companionship to people who are as humiliated and as emptied of their identity as he was. Christ’s cross stands between all the countless crosses which line the paths of the powerful and the violent, from Spartacus to the concentration camps and to the people who have died of hunger or who have ‘disappeared’ in Latin America.”
[6] Cf. Raymond Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology, 151: “A Jesus who walked through the world with unlimited knowledge, knowing exactly what the morrow would bring, knowing with certainty that three days after his death his Father would raise him up, would be a Jesus who could arouse our admiration, but a Jesus still far from us. He would be a Jesus far from a humankind that can only hope in the future and believe in God’s goodness, far from a humankind that must face the supreme uncertainty of death with faith but without knowledge of what is beyond. On the other hand, a Jesus for whom the detailed future had elements of mystery, dread, and hope as it has for us and yet, at the same time, a Jesus who would say, ‘Not my will but yours’—this would be a Jesus who could effectively teach us how to live, for this Jesus would have gone through life’s real trials.”

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

We See Jesus
Ps. 8; Heb. 1:1; 2:5-12; Mk. 10:13-16[1]
One of the fundamental teachings of Scripture is that God is exalted far beyond our ability to grasp or conceive. Our Psalm for today puts it this way: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1). The language of the Hebrew Scriptures about this can be surprisingly concrete: one of the fundamental affirmations about God is that no one can “see God’s face” and live (Exodus 33:20). The language of John’s Gospel is even more blunt: “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18).
The reason Scripture speaks this way is because the God of the Bible is far beyond our ability to grasp or conceive. Theologians speak of God’s transcendence, or God’s inscrutability.[2] Job puts the problem more pragmatically: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10). What all these ways of speaking about God are referring to is God’s hiddenness.[3] I think most of us aren’t entirely comfortable with a God who remains hidden. We long for a sign, something tangible that we can hang our faith on. We all would like to be able to pull back the veil and take a peek. Writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it this way—“we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Hebrews 2:8)—meaning Jesus, as the Son of Man from Psalm 8. It is a reference to God’s hiddenness. We do not yet see God’s reign completed. We do not yet see all tears wiped away, all suffering and sickness and pain and injustice banished from humankind. We do not yet see all things made new.
But while God’s kingdom and God’s salvation remain inscrutable to us, we are not left completely in the dark. There is much we do not at present see that we might like to see, but the writer of Hebrews insists that “We see Jesus.” This is significant, because the basis for much of what Hebrews is about is the idea that Jesus is “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3). He’s talking about the idea of the incarnation. Now, I realize that we may believe ourselves to be too sophisticated to think much of antiquated concepts like God being incarnate in a human being. But the concept of incarnation is not about the biology of where children come from. It is an affirmation that Jesus really and truly does show us what God is like. [4] We can look at Jesus, his life, his teaching, his mercy, his justice, and we can be confident that we are seeing a true image of God. Or as Hebrews puts it: Jesus is “the exact imprint of God’s very being.”[5]
And when we look at Jesus, what is it that we see? We see him embracing the ones nobody else would embrace. We see him confronting the religious people with the falseness of their self-righteousness. We see him forgiving sinners and restoring people to their right mind. We see him teaching people to follow the commandments by loving God whole-heartedly and loving others sincerely. And in today’s Gospel lesson we see Jesus telling people to be faithful to their spouses, and we see him welcoming little children.
Children are amazing. They are energy personified. They have the capacity to laugh, cry, dance, and shout—all without any inhibitions! As much as we love our children, however, we still have trouble really seeing them as human beings. After all, what do children do? When they’re not sleeping or eating, they play. Most of us adults know that we’re too busy to waste our precious time playing with children. But children won't take no for an answer when it comes to play. Our four-year-old niece Tyler is serious about playing. When she's not sleeping or eating, she's playing. We had breakfast with her and her parents yesterday, and we all had to take turns feeding her baby horse!
I wonder what we think Jesus did with those children when they came to him. The typical “Sunday School” image is of calm, smiling, obedient children simply gathered around him, admiring his presence. But we know that most children aren’t like that. They’re fidgety, they’re impulsive; they can actually speak out of turn and interrupt what’s going on! So I think we should conceive of Jesus interacting with real group of children—active, exuberant, noisy! And the more children, the more they are active, exuberant, and noisy! What do you do with a group of children like that? You don’t try to make them “be still” so you can teach them an important lesson. You jump right into the middle of the fray and play with them.
Is something so seemingly mundane really an aspect of what it means that Jesus is “the exact imprint of God’s very being”? Surely it must be incidental, simply a part of the narrative “coloring” that keeps us interested in the really important stuff. But Jesus says that children define the character of what it means to be a part of God’s kingdom, God’s saving reign, God’s new creation.
What does that have to say about the character of the "hidden" God? Well, I think if God were to suddenly appear before us, what we would see is a kind and gentle person playing with little children! The other side of God’s transcendence is God’s immanence—the idea that God is always near, like the very air we breathe.[6] We need both.[7] That’s why we look to Jesus. Jesus reminds us that God’s love is so vast that we cannot possibly begin to conceive it. But he also reminds us that God’s love is as accessible to us all as the kindness of someone who freely and joyfully plays with children.

[1] © 2009 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 10/4/09 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] The traditional way of affirming this is creatio ex nihilo, the idea that God created all things out of nothing. Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 74-75.
[3] Cf. especially Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.1:179-204. See also Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith, 60-63.
[4]Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 114-118, says that the incarnation is part of the “eternally self-communicating love of God” that constitutes not simply an “emergency measure” to deal with sin, but rather the “foundation of the new creation,” or the “perfecting of creation.”
[5] Cf. Moltmann, God in Creation, 94-95; cf. John 14:9, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
[6] See Moltmann Trinity, 39, 104-5; Moltmann, God in Creation, 9, 13-14, 15-17, 258; Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 161; Paul Tillich, “Spiritual Presence,” in The Eternal Now, 86-87. Lest we jettison transcendence entirely in favor of immanence, Moltmann reminds us that “A world without transcendence is a world in which nothing new can happen. It is the world of the eternal return of the same thing” (God in Creation, 163).
[7] Isa. 57:15 remains the classic statement: “For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Richard Elliott Friedman, The Hidden Face of God, 105, captures this well when he says, “The Hebrew Bible pictures a God who is the most hidden of deities and yet the most personal.” Elizabeth Johnson, Quest for the Living God, 25-48, articulates the balance between transcendence and immanence in dialogue with Karl Rahner in terms of “the infinitely incomprehensible holy mystery of God” that grows “ever greater” in our understanding and at the same time draws “ever nearer.” cf. also Berkhof, Christian Faith, 115;

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Seeing the face of God in others

I think the idea from Welcome to the Wisdom of the World that stood out for me the most this week is that our religion ought to promote a sense of God's presence in our lives, and in the lives of those around us, even those of different faiths. When we see God as a loving Creator who is deeply interested in all creatures, then I think it is impossible to treat people from other religions with disrespect and hatred. When we truly believe that "there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist" (1 Corinthians 8:6), then we have to extend that to all humankind. When we do that, we must be open to signs of God's presence in their lives through their religious faith and practice, even if it is outwardly very different from ours. In a nutshell, true religion will enhance our sense of common humanity, not drive a wedge between us.