He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (ESV)
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Image Over Imagination
Friday of Pentecost 10
22 August 2014
There is a God. Well, yes. Who doesn't know this? Even avowed atheists don't seem to be able to express their anti-Christian opinions without using Christian terms and ideas. A Houston area atheist describes atheist friendly Houston as "heaven on earth" on his blog. But since there is no heaven what in the world could this possibly mean? Does it mean "earth on earth?" That would be a bit redundant. How would we have any idea that there anything superior to our present experience if the earth is the best it can be; your "best life now?" What is the "beyond" to which much human language gropes if this all there is?
Few people actually succeed in being out and out atheists. My belligerently anti-Christian relatives began their anti-religion path by describing themselves as "atheists." Now they merely describe themselves as agnostics, albeit with the belligerence retained: "I am really sure that I am unsure about God!" It is quite a challenge to maintain belligerence about your uncertainty. At any rate, they are belligerently certain that Christianity cannot be true. God may or may not exist, but if He does, they are certain He can't be Christian.
This uncertain general knowledge about God, based on what could be known through natural revelation, doesn't really benefit the person who confused about God or merely knows that "God exists." To know that a medical doctor exists is not that same as to set an appointment with him or her, receive a diagnosis, fill a prescription, and take the medicine. Those who know "God exists" are like the person who knows that doctors exist, but declines to seek the aid of one when sick. The person who admits the existence of doctors, but declines to be examined by one, is no closer to healing than the person who just declines to believe that doctors actually exist. So admitting the existence of something is not very far along the line to knowing or understanding what exists.
How could someone worship what he does not know. He cannot. Or at least not rightly. If we imagine a god, then we will also imagine his worship. An imaginary god only requires imaginary worship. The standard for the cult of such a god is only the imagination of the worshipper. Unfortunately, such a cult is as worthless as the god it venerates. Yet many people worship in precisely this way; attributing their predilections to divinity, as though God would want the worship that they imagine is best. There imagination misses the image of the eternal God, Christ the Lord (2 Co 4:4).
"Paul indicates the emptiness of the natural knowledge of God when he says: 'When you did not know God, that is, when you did not know what the will of God is, you were slaves to those who were by nature not gods; that is, you were in bondage to the dreams and imaginations of your own hearts, by which without the Word of God you made up the idea that God is to be worshiped with this work or that ritual (Gal 4:8).' When people accept this proposition, 'There is a God,' from it there was born all idolatry, which would not have come into the world without the knowledge of divinity. But because men had this natural knowledge about God, they conceived vain and wicked thoughts about God apart from and contrary to the Word. They embraced these as the truth itself, and they imagined God otherwise than He is by nature. Thus a monk imagines such a God who remits sins and grants grace and eternal life because of the observance of his rule. That God has never existed. Therefore the monk neither serves nor worships the true God; he serves and worships one who by nature is no god, namely, a figment and idol of his own heart, that is, his own false and empty notion about God, which he imagines to be the most certain truth. But even reason itself is obliged to admit that a human opinion is not God. Therefore whoever wants to worship God or serve Him without the Word is serving, not the true God but, as Paul says, "one who by nature is not god" (Gal 4:8).
Therefore there is no difference whether you call the "elements" (Gal 4:9) here the law of Moses or some of the traditions of the Gentiles, even though Paul is speaking specifically and chiefly about the "elements" of Moses. For someone who falls away from grace into the law is no better off in his fall than someone who, apart from grace, falls into idolatry. Outside of Christ there is nothing but sheer idolatry, an idol and a false fiction about God, whether it is called the law of Moses or the law of the pope or the Qur'an of the Muslim.
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.9
Lord Jesus, free us from the elements of this world, that freed from the law, we might abide in peace and holiness according to Your Word. Amen.
For families who have been bereaved of a child, that the Lord of life would grant peace
For those who have been baptized into the life of Christ, that they might live that life with all the challenges it implies
For those who suffer from persecution, that the holy angels would watch over them and that they would faithfully confess Christ when called to account for the hope that is in them
For Pastor Richard Gaub, who will be installed at Memorial Lutheran Church and School on Sunday, that the Lord Jesus, overseer of our souls, would bless his ministry among God's people
Art: Crucifixes Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014