June 7, 2020 A+D
Romans 11: 33-36; John 3:1-17
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. Paul’s poetic exclamation in Romans 11 is a direct response to the goodness of God’s mercy that chooses undeserving men out of disobedience to be His own children. The depth of riches of both the wisdom and knowledge of God is His mercy, that is that He is loving and kind and seeks us out. His unsearchable judgements and ways past finding out include the mystery that some are saved and others are not.
Neither the doctrine of election nor unanswerable questions send Paul into a funk at God’s unfairness. Instead it propels him to ecstatic praise as he realizes his own good fortune and God’s magnificence.
Our fathers chafed under unanswerable questions. The generations before ours was the age of modernism. The prevalent sense was that the world was progressing through technology and that science would solve all our problems and end all mysteries. Eventually there would be no unanswerable questions.
We know better and are more prone to skepticism and disenchantment. Some of this is because it is now more obvious than ever before that technology has not solved all our problems and that science is neither almighty nor without the need for interpretation nor is it free from liars. So also the internet has eroded the ability of the government and the powerful to lie to us. It enables news of police brutality, the CDC’s years of fake numbers for flu deaths, or Apple’s use of child labor to get out almost immediatly and the information can’t simply be destroyed. At the same time, it enables every crackpot a voice and the promulgation of fake news. The internet teaches us to trust no one.
That skepticism can be healthy. We should not blindly trust history or science books just because they purport to be history or science anymore than we should trust a website or radio broadcast because it calls itself “news.” David tells us both “All men are liars” and “trust not in princes.”
Where then in this sea confusion, chaos, and chicanery can we find an anchor? Obviously in God Himself. Trust in Him above all things. Trust His Word. Trust His promises. The Bible is accurate and trustworthy. What it says of the history of the world and its creation is true even if it seems strange or miraculous and unexplainable to us. At the same time, though accurate, in the end, the Bible is not a science book any more than it is a book about politics or nutrition. Its primary purpose is not to teach us how far Cana is from Capernaum, but to bring us into the mystery that makes us wise unto salvation by revealing God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to us in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the anchor we need. He is trustworthy.
At the same time, Paul is not exaggerating when he states, by implication, that no one can know the mind of God or be His counselor. We should be humble enough to know not only that we are morally unworthy of God’s gracious attention but that we are also intellectually incapable of perfect knowledge or understanding. We should be humble enough to recognize that we are saved by grace not by being clever enough to take God up on a good deal or by the inherent wisdom in us that caused us to recognize the truth of the Bible’s claims. We are saved by grace, not by smarts. To put it in the vernacular: we got lucky. It is not fair. It doesn’t quite make sense. There are things we don’t know and can’t know and likely a host of things that we are confused about without even knowing it. We are saved by grace, by God’s goodness and mercy and election.
Our faith is not defined by knowledge but by worship. We worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in unity. This is possible not because we understand what we are doing but because of the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Trinity procured our salvation by the Son becoming a Man for us. In this, He reconciled Himself to us. He joins us to Himself by the giving of the Spirit who creates faith in us. Whoever calls upon the Name of the Lord, that is, whoever believes and is baptized, will be saved. In Baptism, God gives us the Name, Father, Son, and Holy Trinity, by which to call upon Him, bringing us into the mystery.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith is knowledge of God in some sense and knowledge of who we are in Him, but it is not so much the sort of knowledge that knows the alphabet and one’s phone number, but is more akin to the knowledge of a newborn infant who knows how to suckle and who turns automatically toward the voice of his mother. We might call it knowledge, but we might also call it love. We might even think of it as something more primal, like instinct, for even as an infant was created to suck at His mother’s breast for nourishment, we were created for God, to live in and by Him and His Word, to know Him and His voice as sheep know their shepherd. Without Him, we are subhuman, blind, and confused. In Him, we are at home even though we are not yet whole or what we will be and do not know all things.
No matter whether we conceive of faith as knowledge or love, certainty or instinct, we will still find that we are afflicted by doubt and worry on this side of glory. We must all contend with the dark part of ourselves that chafe’s against God and seeks ways to be free of Him. Neither our faith nor our knowledge is yet what it will be. The devil custom makes our stumbling blocks. We rarely struggle with the doctrine of the Trinity, but we rarely think of it either. We tend to be more moved by the problem of evil or the fact that not everyone is saved or the seemingly blind eye of God to the injustices of our nation. But faith that is weak and is under attack is still faith. Its object is not itself or its strength, but Christ and His goodness. A weak faith is still faith, as a flickering candle still gives off light and a weeping eye still receives light.
Thus ou, by faith, however feeble it might be, grasp onto God Himself. You cling to His merit and promises despite your uncertainties and fears. He is the Light, but He is also a Man. He has an eye and a hand. Even if your vision is obscured, He sees you clearly without confusion or delusion. He grasps you by His Incarnation. Your grasp and hold easily loosen, but He does not let go. He is stronger than the strong one. He says: No one will snatch them from Me. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Thus we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity and we faithfully believe in that our Lord Jesus Chrsit, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.