O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might.
O God, hear my prayer;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
For strangers have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves.
Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will return the evil to my enemies; in your faithfulness put an end to them.
With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.(ESV)
For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
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What Have I Done to Deserve This?
Thursday of Lent 1
26 February 2015
How Abraham's heart (Gn 22:1-18) must have struggled when God commanded that he sacrifice his only son! He must have said, "What have I done to deserve this? To be required by God to kill my own child?"
We feel this way too when we suffer some significant disease, like cancer. Abraham was not unique, as a great saint he suffered sorrow and trouble like us. The great saints have real problems, not make believe problems. When we suffer a great trial, we too may wonder: "How have I sinned? What have I done to offend God? Have I been a poor father, pastor, husband, child, coworker, neighbor, or friend? Have I failed to confess the faith when called to account for it?" We presume we have done something to deserve our suffering and trial. We are wired to say, "You must have done something to deserve this!" Because the law is written in our hearts, rumbling accusations against us arise from it. The devil our enemy seeks to devour us in a cacophony of accusations. But we are often at a loss what is to be done about those accusations. At this point we are likely to demand justice from God like Job, who begins a judicial examination in the court of God's law. All this must have been rumbling around in the heart and mind of poor burdened Abraham.
God's unaccountable commands tempt us to presume that God is lying to us. We struggle to trust God's Word to us. We question, "How is it that this bread is the body of Christ?" We all know that bread remains bread and that wine remains wine. We are tempted to rewrite the Transfiguration hymn: "How Good, Lord, to be Here" with "How Good, Lord, You're Not Here." I know what I know and you can't convince me beyond my five senses and my well-developed reason. We wonder how it is that poor sinners are acquitted of their sins through the proclamation of forgiveness upon the divine command and authority of Christ our Lord. "You can't mean me, O Lord!" These gifts are attacked by the law and our human wisdom.
The Lord has worked a plan of salvation that runs counter to our wisdom. Abraham found that out when the Lord commanded the unthinkable sacrifice of him; but Abraham in his weakness lived by faith confident that "God was able even to raise Isaac from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back" (Heb 11:19). To face this is what it means to live by faith.
"Abraham, too, had thoughts like this: 'Behold, the Lord promised and gave me a son. As a result, I became happy and was restored to life, as it were. But perhaps this gift made me too proud, and I was not as thankful to God as I should have been. Therefore He regrets His promise.'
"When some physical affliction besets us, our conscience is soon at hand, and the devil torments it by assembling all the circumstances. Therefore a troubled heart looks about and considers how it may have offended God most. This leads to murmuring against God and to the greatest trial, hatred of God.
"Abraham, too, had thoughts like this: 'Behold, the Lord promised and gave me a son. As a result, I became happy and was restored to life, so to speak. But perhaps this gift made me too proud, and I was not as thankful to God as I should have been. Therefore He regrets His promise.'
"This trial cannot be overcome and is far too great to be understood by us. For there is a contradiction with which God contradicts Himself. It is impossible for the flesh to understand this; for it inevitably concludes either that God is lying-and this is blasphemy-or that God hates me-and this leads to despair. Accordingly, this passage cannot be explained in a manner commensurate with the importance of the subject matter.
"We are frequently tempted by thoughts of despair; for what human being is there who could be without this thought: 'What if God did not want you to be saved?' But we are taught that in this conflict we must hold fast to the promise given us in Baptism, which is sure and clear. But when this happens, Satan does not cease immediately but keeps crying out in your heart that you are not worthy of this promise.
"But in this situation there is need of the fervent prayer that God may give us His Spirit, in order that the promise may not be wrested from us. I am unable to resolve this contradiction. Our only consolation is that in affliction we take refuge in the promise; for it alone is our staff and rod, and if Satan strikes it out of our hands, we have no place left to stand. But we must hold fast to the promise and maintain that, just as the text states about Abraham, we are tempted by God, not because He really wants this, but because He wants to find out whether we love Him above all things and are able to bear Him when He is angry as we gladly bear Him when He is beneficent and makes promises."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 22.2
Lord Jesus Christ, You bring us the cross we need. Help us to recognize this and to confess it. Keep us from despair and other great shame and vice. Give us the faith of Abraham, the father of faith. Amen.
For Ruth Sovis, that she would recover fully from a broken arm
For Sandra Stolhandske, who has suffered a stroke, that her Lord Jesus would be with her strengthening her and granting her healing
For Acting President Don Christian, the faculty, and staff of Concordia University Texas, that the Lord God would grant them the gifts of growth in faith and numbers
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015