Romans 9, the Awful and Terrible God, and Communion

When we first began attending Hope Baptist Church, we noted and appreciated that they observed the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis. Six months later, I have come to the realization that my ability to under appreciate a sacrament knows no bounds.

For the past three weeks, the elders have been leading the church through Romans 9, and let me tell you, these are not verses that are easy to hear:

Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

It is a terrifying thing to read these passages and to know that this is our God; it is a fearful thing to see Jehovah so clearly, and to know the awe that fills our heart and minds at His description. It is an entirely different thing to hear such a sermon and then to partake in communion.

Imagine for a moment that you are the child of the Hebrew king David. Your father, the king, is a man of war. In certain seasons, he takes his sword in hand and leads his armies to war. He has killed men, has with his own hands shed their blood, and he has given orders that would bring death to women and children. On days of judgement, he sits as a magistrate, and hands down rulings. He has sentenced men and women to death for crimes against the law. It is not his hand that kills them, but it is at his word and at his judgement nonetheless. But consider this: this man, the king, the man of war, the judge, the grim faced man who presides over life and death, this man is also your father. And he is not one man when he is at war and a second man when he sits at court and a third man when he sits with you and calls you by your name. He is the same man.

And this is what communion reminds me of. This is not to say that I should not tremble when I think of God. This is not to say that I am to forget that he is both awful and terrible (look up these words if you do not get my meaning – we have watered them down and forgotten what they mean). But it means that I am to place alongside this image of awe, this image of terror, an image of Abba Father, and I am to commune with him.

What I am striking out against here is the wicked idea that God must be watered down so that we can be comfortable with Him. Let me give another example, this time from C. S. Lewis’s novel, The Silver Chair. Here one of the main characters, Jill Pole, has been brought to Aslan’s country and through her own foolishness has found herself alone, lost, and looking for something to drink. Finally she comes to a pool of water, and guarding it, is a lion:

“If you are thirsty, you may drink.”

[…] For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” […] [she] realised that it was the lion speaking. […] [T]he voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the lion.

“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realised that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

This is how communion felt after the sermons on Romans 9. Here I am, says God, I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms, and I will do so again if it pleases me. Know me. Look upon me. See me as I am… and come and drink.

On C. S. Lewis, His Personal Devotion to Relationships, and My Depravity

Courtesy of The Inklings, we have this this excerpt of Erik Routley’s remembrance of C. S. Lewis taken from C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and other Reminiscences:

I know myself what others know far better — how unfailingly courteous Lewis was in answering letters. I think I corresponded with him on three or four occasions… But there was a reply every time — it might be quite brief, but it was always written for you and for nobody else. I think this was his greatest secret. He hated casual contacts; human contact must, for him, be serious and concentrated and attentive, or it was better avoided. It might be for a moment only, but that was its invariable quality. That is not only why so many people have precious memories of him; it is also why he couldn’t write three words without the reader’s feeling that they were written for him and him alone. It’s why his massive books of scholarship read as delightfully as his children’s stories, and why he’s one of the few preachers who can be read without losing their message.

Having read this, I find myself ashamed at the thought of my own inattention to others, at the very lack of effort I put into achieving quality in a shared experience. I find that I am vain and self-absorbed, wholly committed to the selling of myself on the stock market of the moment, more concerned with how I am perceived than with how I truly am. Even now, as I read back through this, I find myself thinking, what will people think of me when they read these things? Will they think me genuine? Perhaps if I tell them that I’m thinking about it they will… My only consolation is that I am not alone in my depravity, and that is almost no consolation at all.

How do you rate compared to Lewis?

The Mundane Deception

If you listen to commercials or read print ads, you’ve probably run into the word “mundane” a few hundred times or more. You may have even used it from time to time in everyday conversations. And why shouldn’t you? It’s a perfectly good word for describing the ho-hum, humdrum, habitual lives that we hate to live. Or is it? I think that somewhere in the modern consumption of the word, we have also managed to swallow a lie. And not just any run of the mill, garden variety lie, but a lie big enough to turn the tables and swallow us as well. A lie that, were things seen as they truly are, would be properly described as mundane.

The word mundane comes from the Latin word mundis, and means of the world or earthly and by implication, it has come to mean boring, banal, and unexciting. And that’s significant, because mundane has another meaning as well, one that backtracks a bit and unwinds itself, a meaning that in some ways, diminishes the borders of the word, and in other ways, sets it up as a ruler over an incredibly populous kingdom. Intrigued? The word mundane means of the world, and before you say, “you just said that”, let me explain that it means of the world in the sense that it does not mean, of heaven.

Continue reading “The Mundane Deception”

Taking Issue with C. S. Lewis

I’m treading on dangerous ground here, but I think C. S. Lewis has something wrong. In The Weight of Glory we come across this passage, which also appears as an excerpt in the Wikipedia deinition of Sehnsucht.

In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

My issue with Lewis’ thinking here is that it conflicts with my understanding of the depravity of man. I have no problem with the idea that what every man needs is Jesus Christ; what I do have an issue with is that a man without Christ has any concept of his need for Him (and I realize that Lewis is almost saying that, but not really). Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Lewis in essence, but when he says that we misidentify Nostalgia, Romanticism, and Adolescence for that longing for another country, he misses the point. I would contend that the only reason that anyone in England had a past that contained elements that could be called good was because of the influence of Jesus Christ upon English culture. If Mr. Lewis were to consider a cannibal in the darkest parts of Africa, which aspect of his life would be the mistaken longing for heaven? One could argue, I suppose, that even his depravity is that mistaken urge, and I would be more inclined to that argument, but I don’t believe that’s the argument made here. When Lewis says, the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience, I do not think he would attribute to our cannibal’s depravity the idea of a sweetly piercing secret.

I also can’t find a place in Scripture where Christ calls someone to Him, by telling them that He was that thing they always wanted. Instead, He calls men to repent and to escape the coming judgement, He calls men to fear a God that has the power to cast their body and their soul into hell.

I should say this: I love this passage by Lewis. It does speak volumes to me, but it speaks to me as a Christian, and on some level, I think it would speak to men who were raised in a nation built around the morality of Jesus Christ. And that is where I think Lewis misses the mark. If we read this passage (as I originally did) and come away from it with a method for speaking to sinners, we have cheated ourselves. “There is a city for which you have been longing” is not the message that we see in Scripture. Instead we are told to speak to men who are damned and to show them a Savior. And once they know Him, they can rightfully say that now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

As always, comments, critiques, and outright criticisms are welcome.