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Psalm 31

 

In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name's sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the LORD. I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many - terror on every side! - as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, "You are my God." My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love! O LORD, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol. Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt. Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm,"I am cut off from your sight." But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD! (ESV)

Faith vs. Feeling

Thursday of Pentecost 18

16 October 2014

A seminary professor of mine told the story of a colleague in the pastoral ministry, who was continually confronted by psychotic delusions. The man saw visions of demons and other horrible sights, which led him to doubt God's mercy toward him and even his own salvation. On these occasions he became convinced that what he saw and felt were absolutely true, à la the character played by Russell Crowe in the movie, A Beautiful Mind, about the mathematician, John Forbes Nash, Jr. But what this pastor saw led not merely to social faux pas, as it did for Nash in the movie, but a kind of spiritual despair. He knew several things theologically about what he saw. First, he knew that the horrible accusations levied against him by the monsters that seemed to crawl into and out of his own mind were absolutely true. It was true that he was a depraved sinner. It was true that decaying death was stalking him. It was true that he felt God's burning wrath against him and he deserved it. Second, he knew that such things were trumped once and for all by Christ His Lord and Savior. He confessed this faithfully in his whole life's work. Everything that he did and stood for was a rebellion against the feeling of spiritual despair that he experienced when he suffered one of these psychotic episodes. He found on those occasions that he needed to return to the Word of God, which brought him something better, more certain, and more powerful than the delusions of his own mind. The Word of God brought him Christ and the divine testimony of redemption from all these horrible plagues, no matter how he felt.

 

The tough part was firmly believing what he confessed. This is not so easy. We know what we believe. Living it is difficult. When my children were younger we made a summer road trip during which we saw as many minor league baseball games as we could. At minor league parks it was easy to get seats right behind home plate, even on a pastor's salary. If you have ever sat behind home plate, you know the experience of flinching when a foul comes slashing back toward your head. You know perfectly well that you don't have to move because the ball cannot hit you, but you can't help it. So it is for us as we live out our faith, when spiritual danger slashes toward us we flinch, even if we know better.

 

We do flinch, and when we do, we still have a gracious Word that comes from God that tells us no matter how we feel about any spiritual threat we still have a God who seeks to grant us His mercy. His own precious Son has taken the full blow from our enemies, whomever and whatever they are. Now we just live as we believe. When we do, it is a miracle of the Holy Spirit; a great gift from God. We are free from sin, death, devil, and the wrath of God. God says so. And that makes all the difference. Faith trumps feeling every time.

 

Martin Luther

"Just as the wrath of God cannot terrify us since Christ has set us free from it, so the law, sin, etc., cannot accuse and condemn us. Even though the law accuses us and sin terrifies us, they still cannot plunge us into despair, because faith, the victor over the world (1Jn 5:4), quickly declares: 'Those things have nothing to do with me, for Christ has set me free from them.' So also death, which is the most powerful and horrible thing in the world, lies conquered in our conscience through this freedom of the Spirit. Therefore the greatness of Christian freedom should be carefully measured and pondered. These words 'freedom from the wrath of God, from the law, sin, death, etc.,' are easy to say. But to feel the greatness of this freedom and to apply its results to oneself in a struggle, in the agony of conscience, and in practice, is more difficult than anyone can say.

 

"Therefore one's spirit must be trained as a remedy against spiritual depression, so that when it feels the accusation of the law, the terrors of sin, the horror of death, and the wrath of God, it will drive out of sight these gloomy scenes and replace them with the freedom of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, life, and the eternal mercy of God. Although the feeling of these antagonists may be powerful, one must be sure that it will not last long. As the prophet says, 'In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you' (Is 54:8). But doing this is extremely difficult.

 

"Therefore the freedom that Christ has achieved for us is easier to name than it is to believe. If it could be grasped in its certainty by a firm faith, no fury or terror of the world, the law, sin, death, the devil, etc., would be so great that it could not swallow them up as quickly as the ocean swallows a spark. Once and for all this freedom of Christ certainly swallows up and abolishes a whole universe of evils, the law, sin, death, the wrath of God, finally the serpent himself with his head (Gn 3:15); and in their place it establishes righteousness, peace, life, etc. But blessed is the man who understands and believes this."

 

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.1

 
Prayer
O Lord Jesus, grant us the gift of freedom from all the plagues that pursue us. Keep us steadfast in our faith, that we might ever be secure against all our enemies. Amen.

 

For the families of all who have been called by the Lord Jesus to the beatific vision, that those who mourn might continue to praise the goodness of the Lord

 

For Mary Lewis, that the Lord would be with her as she undergoes radiation therapy

 

For those who suffer the fear of God because of spiritual weakness, that they might find their strength in Christ alone, that they might believe what they confess about Christ's complete sufficiency in their lives
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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