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.

You Have Misunderstood the Nature of the Law

In Romans 3:19-20 Paul says the following:

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Now, I had absorbed the fact that no man has been saved by the works of the law, but there was still a part of me that thought the law technically could  justify someone. You know, if some “hypothetical” man was somehow able to keep the law then he would be saved by the law. But what Paul is telling the us here is that this is not true. Instead, he is saying something along these lines:

To those of you who are trusting in the works of the law, you have completely misunderstood its nature. You are like a carpenter who has a too-short board, and who believes that if he measures it over and over again it will somehow get longer.  Jesus Christ was not made perfect by the Law, but rather, was perfect all along. All the Law did was allow you to contrast His perfection with your gross unrighteousness. The law, to those who are in sin, is nothing more than a tape measure, but you have been trying to use it as a ladder to God.

What do you think?