Extremism in the Cause of Love
Monday of Pentecost 12
8 August 2016
We humans are sometimes suspicious of God's overwhelming love for us. We suspect it of extremism or contradiction. We suspect it of extremism when we are confronted with the extraordinary lengths to which God went to accomplish our salvation. We suspect it of contradiction when we consider that God's wrath against us was appeased by the death of His Son, but if so, would not His wrath already be appeased if He was willing to make the offering of the life of His Son? Could He still be angry with us if He was willing to offer Him up for us all (Rm 8:31-32)? Scripture even describes Christ as the Lamb slain from the world's foundation (Rev 13:8). Critics of the Christian faith see this as a Gordian knot in which God Himself is bound. A God who does not conform to our powers of perception and conceptions of logic just can't be God. We want to step into the ring and go a couple of rounds with God in a match governed by our own rules.
 
A couple of basic things can be said in reply to this sparring with God's self-revelation. First, God reveals himself to have a complex will (Is 55:10-11; Job 38:4-39:30), in comparison to our own. If it is possible for humans to will different things in different ways, and at different times, how could we say that God could not? So God's will must be at least as complex as that of which we humans might be capable.
 
We humans are often incapable of "knowing our own minds." What makes us think that we should be able to have instant and easy access to the mind and will of God, especially apart from his divine self-revelation in Christ? Perhaps what we consider a contradiction in God is a measurement of our own weak understanding rather than God's illogic.
 
Second, what if God is overwhelmingly loving toward us? What if his wrath is appeased at every point and in every way: from the foundation of the world, from the revelation to the patriarchs of the coming Christ, at the supreme offering of the blood of Christ on the cross for the sin of the world, in the speaking of holy absolution from the altars of our churches, from the offering of the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins in the holy supper? Wouldn't we say that a husband who goes to overwhelming and extraordinary lengths to prove his love for his wife and family, sacrificing himself at every turn for them, is a good husband and father? How then could we fault God for going to even greater and more extraordinary lengths than any human father or husband could ever possibly accomplish? How could we wag a critical finger in the face of God for being so loving? "Shame on You, God, for being so gracious to us sinners!" So Scripture assures us of the power of God's love by speaking repeatedly of the appeasement of God's wrath through the work of Christ and His blood shed for us. Extremism in the cause of love is no vice.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"What is meant by 'justified by His blood?' What power is there in this blood that those who believe should be justified by it? And what is meant by 'being reconciled by the death of His Son?' Was it indeed so, that when God the Father was angry with us, He saw the death of His Son for us, and was appeased toward us? Was then His Son already so far appeased toward us, that He even deigned to die for us; while the Father was still so wrathful, that except His Son died for us, He would not be appeased? What is it which the same teacher of the Gentiles himself says in another place: 'What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all; how will He not along with Him also freely give us all things?' (Rm 8:31-32).
 
"Unless the Father had been already appeased, would He have delivered up His own Son, not sparing Him for us? Does not this opinion seem to be as it were contrary to that? In the one, the Son dies for us, and the Father is reconciled to us by His death; in the other, as though the Father first loved us, He Himself on our account does not spare the Son, He Himself delivers Him for us up to death. But the Father loved us also before, not only before the Son died for us, but before He created the world; the apostle himself being witness, who says, 'For he chose us in Him before the creation of the world' (Eph 1:4). Nor was the Son delivered up for us unwillingly, the Father Himself not sparing Him; for it is said also concerning Him, 'who loved me and gave himself for me.' (Gal 2:20). Therefore, together both the Father and the Son, and the Spirit of both, work all things equally and harmoniously; yet we are justified in the blood of Christ, and we are reconciled to God by the death of His Son."

Augustine, On the Trinity, 13.11
Ephesians 1:3-23

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
 
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
 
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (ESV)
Prayer
To comfort our weak hearts, O God, You have opened Your heart to us in Your Son Jesus Christ. To staunch our tears, O God, You have shed the blood of Christ. To quell our fears, O God, You sent Christ to the fearsome death of the cross. Send Your Spirit to us that we might share the extremism of Your love for us with others. Amen.
 
For the members of Memorial Lutheran Church as they share the faith of Christ with those living in darkness and in the fear of death, that God the Holy Spirit would give them strength and confidence in their witness to Christ, who is the Light of the world
 
For Cantor Janet Muth and all church musicians, that they would be upheld in every labor and rejoice in their work
 
For the family of Ernest Albers as they grieve the loss of a dear father and grandfather, that they would confess their confidence in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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