The Good or Good?
Monday of Easter 5
15 May 2017
Contemporary "spirituality" evacuates meaning from Christianity by reducing the enfleshed actions of the God Man to concepts and ideas. In the novel, Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, by Alexander McCall Smith, the protagonist, Isabel Dalhousie expresses her amazement at a woman who strongly disbelieves in an afterlife. However, she can hardly match such strong revulsion with her own strong confession to the contrary: "We strove for God-or many people did-and did it really matter what form we gave to the concept of God? In her mind it was striving after the good. And what was wrong with striving after the good in a way which made sense to the individual?" Isabel succinctly describes our penchant to reduce God to an abstract term, "the good." God is not an abstraction or a conceptualization. Indeed, such a conceptualization is a move not toward God but away from Him. Isabel is moving from God to the good, from the concrete and personal to the abstract and impersonal. Here God becomes just a construct of the mind, the mental projection of the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer.
 
But is there anything really wrong with striving for "the good" in this way? No, as long as it is not called "finding god." This finding of god is like those about to die of dehydration in the desert drilling a well only to hit oil instead of water. What is wrong with oil? Nothing, except it is not water. Reducing God to "the good" is like finding oil rather than water. Oil has its benefits and under the right circumstances is more valuable than water, but when life is on the line, all the oil in the world will not help. We are not able to find the water of life because we have been satisfied with that to which God points, the abstractions of the divine nature, all very beneficial in themselves, but not God.
 
St. Paul points us away from abstraction and conceptualization to a God who becomes flesh of our flesh. God is not a mere idea, but irreducibly Himself, "I am" (Ex 3:14). The historical specification of the resurrection of the Christ as the firstfruits of those who sleep promise an equally specific resurrection of His body following after the Head. We live because He lives. So we are not striving after "the good" as a way of finding God, but God has striven after us defining the good in the person of His Son, who was crucified and raised again. Only in God is the good truly known, not vice versa. The good that is given us by God is intimately and inextricably tied down to the person of Christ. The life eternal which He has bequeathed us comes only from His striving to save us unto Himself forever. His voice shall raise from their graves all the faithful in God. "The good," as valuable as it is, will never do any of that.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
 
"St. Paul says that the resurrection will not take place in this way, that Christ will immediately take all who died before Him with Himself; nor will He awaken the Christians who die after Him individually and one after the other. No, He was to be the precursor and the head, acquiring for all Christians, both those who preceded and those who succeed Him, the ability to live in Him spiritually during their appointed time here on earth. And when the time comes, He will on one day bid all who belong to Him come forth, and then He will lead them with Him. He rose when His hour was at hand. And thus we, too, shall rise when our hour comes and follow Him. For He will not awaken us before all who are His own have been gathered together. And since many are yet to be born, both we and those who preceded us in death must wait until these are also added and death, which slays us daily, ceases entirely and is abolished, as St. Paul will tell us a little later.
 
"That is what is meant here when we read: 'each in his own order' (1Co 15:23). These words differentiate between His resurrection and ours. For the order demands that He be first. He must blaze the trail and produce life. After that He will gather all those who are His members and belong to the resurrection, one after another, so that they all come forth together on one day appointed by Him and live with Him eternally. Meanwhile He alone remains Primitiae, 'the firstfruits'; and we who believe in Him live in Him by more than one half until He draws forth also the small remnant completely, namely, our flesh and blood. Thus He remains in His order, and we in ours. And we have the certain hope that since He, our Head, has preceded us, our entire body in one piece will follow Him at the proper time and abide where He is. This will not happen in secret or in some nook or corner, one rising here and another person there; no, this will be a public spectacle viewed by the whole world, when death, sin, and every evil will end and all will be sheer life and joy. Furthermore, our bodies, together with those of all creatures, will possess a new clarity in keeping with His promise. Therefore the question whether several people rose separately is not to be dragged in here, as I said; for in these this is not yet manifest, nor is the final existence which will prevail at that time."

Martin Luther, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15, 23
1 Corinthians 15:50-59

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

"Death is swallowed up in victory."
"O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?"
   
 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
   
 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (ESV)
Prayer
O God, the giver of all that is good, by Your holy inspiration grant that we may think those things that are right and by Your merciful guiding accomplish them; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
 
For those who are suffering inclement weather, that they might be kept safe under the watch of the holy angels
 
For the work of the Luther Academy, that it might continue to support confessional Lutherans the world over, so that Christ would be proclaimed in all truth
 
For the family of Donna Preus, who will receive Christian funeral rites today, that those who grieve her passing would mourn as those who have hope in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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