Listen to me in silence, O coastlands; let the peoples renew their strength; let them approach, then let them speak; let us together draw near for judgment.
Who stirred up one from the east whom victory meets at every step? He gives up nations before him, so that he tramples kings underfoot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow. He pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he. The coastlands have seen and are afraid; the ends of the earth tremble; they have drawn near and come. Everyone helps his neighbor and says to his brother, "Be strong!" The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, "It is good"; and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.
But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, "You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off"; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, "Fear not, I am the one who helps you." Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge, new, sharp, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff; you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them. And you shall rejoice in the LORD; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.
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Friend of God
20 August 2014
I got to be good friends with an older member of the first congregation I served. My friend looked like a grumpy bulldog. You know that type: intense, great bulk, very short haircut; with a kind of Marine Corps "jarhead" look. His face was memorable, unforgettable really. If you judged his personality by his appearance you might be tempted to run the other way as fast as you could when you saw him. This was to misjudge his personality completely. Eger was a delightful, fun loving, bright, and, in a good way, intense man. If you judged him by his appearance you were deprived of a great delight. You couldn't know or understand Eger by his outward appearance. To a greater or lesser extent, this is true of every person.
This is especially true of God. The outward appearance of God is the world in which He reveals Himself through natural knowledge. What can we possibly know about God according to the world and the way that it runs? We can know that there is wrath in God. Nature seldom appears to be on our side (ask any farmer!). In the world things work by inexorable laws which we must learn sooner or later. And if later, often with the severest of penalties. Those who do well end up with good things. Those who act evilly suffer negative outcomes. You reap what you sow (Job 4:8). Everyone dies; some people tragically and some people well. But everyone dies. What would we know about God on the basis of this face? The same thing the casual observer thought on seeing my friend: "Run!"
But we only know rightly a friend when we understand their heart, when we know what's going on in their mind, what their will is toward us. This is also absolutely true of God. We can know His existence, His justice, and His wrath by our first look at the world. Only when we see what He does for us will we rightly know how graciously He beholds us, seeing us through the life and merits of Christ our Lord and Savior. When He turns His face toward us, then we know what all the deepest and most gracious blessings are that He wants to shower down upon us. This self-revelation is a special knowledge that comes as a gift from God, not as our discovery of His general attributes, like His existence. Knowing that God exists does not yet rise to the level of the knowledge of God that God wants us to have of Him in Christ our Lord. Nor is it saving faith, anymore than recognizing someone's face is friendship with them. Christ reveals the divine face and will toward us so that we can be true friends with God. His heart is opened to us especially on the cross where we see His self-sacrifice for us. He is our friend.
"All people naturally have the general knowledge that there is a God, according to the statement 'For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made' (Rm 1:19-20). Besides, the forms of worship and the religions that have been and remained among all nations are abundant evidence that at some time all have had some general knowledge of God.
"But here again someone may raise the objection: 'If all people know God, why does Paul say that before the proclamation of the Gospel the Galatians did not know God?' I reply: There is a twofold knowledge of God: the general and the special. All have the general knowledge, namely, that God is, that He has created heaven and earth, that He is just, that He punishes the wicked, etc. But what God thinks of us, what He wants to give and to do to free us from sin and death and to save us (which is the special and the true knowledge of God) this people do not know. Thus it can happen that I may know someone by sight, but I do not really know him, because I do not understand what his will is toward me. So it is that people know naturally that there is a God, but they do not know what He wants and what He does not want. For it is written: 'No one understands God' (Rm 3:11); and elsewhere: 'No one has ever seen God' (Jn 1:18), that is, no one knows what the will of God is.
"Now what good does it do you to know that God exists if you do not know what His will is toward you? Here different people imagine different things. The Jews imagine that it is the will of God that they should worship God according to the commandment of the Law of Moses. The Turks, that they should observe the Qur'an. The monk, that he should keep his rules and vows. But all of them are deceived and, as Paul says 'have become futile in their thinking' (Rm 1:21); not knowing what is pleasing to God and what is displeasing to Him. Therefore, they adore the imaginations of their own heart as though these were true God by nature, when by nature these are nothing at all."
Lectures on Galatians, 4.8-9
Lord Jesus, You have made us friends of God by revealing to us the gracious will of God through Your suffering and death. Free us from enmity toward our fellow believers that we might always share your self-revelation with them. Amen.
For Memorial Lutheran School, that faculty and staff would be good witnesses to the faith of Christ as school starts tomorrow
For Tessa Pernoud, that the Lord Jesus would send His holy angels to watch over her and her child, keeping them safe
For Mark Harstad, who has acute T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma, that the Lord Jesus would be with doctors and other health professionals as they see to his needs, and that strengthen and healing would be granted to this child of God
Art: Crucifixes Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014