Tuesday, June 17, 2014

We are likely to be far more amazed by the answers when they finally come than we were ever confounded by the questions


O depth of riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are the His judgments, and inscrutable His ways. Romans 11:33

Today we close the first semester of the church year with the celebration of Trinity Sunday.  In the first half we considered God’s great acts for the salvation of the world.  We were refreshed in our faith by delving into the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, His ascension into heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  Today we confess that it is the Holy Trinity who stands behind those mighty acts of our redemption.  And even if they are as baffling to us as they were to St. Paul, we can still add our own amen to his, and join him in praising the one, eternal God whom earth and heaven adore because whatever God does He does for us; to deliver us from our enemies; to save us from sin, death and the devil; and to make us holy as He Himself is holy; and nothing is better than that.

Do not be surprised if you suffer from theological confusion.  Even Isaiah and Paul did not always track.  Reason tells us that there is a God who is all powerful, but it can only take us so far because our intellects have been compromised by sin, so we must rely on God’s Word which tells us all that we need to know for now. 

In Scripture we learn that God is One, but that He is also three persons each one fully divine.  It is as we confess in the Athanasian Creed, “The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Ghost is God.  And yet they are not three Gods but one God.”  Though we cannot grasp this now, one day we will.  But not only is the Person of God incomprehensible, so is His modus operandi, which is why St. Paul calls His Judgments unsearchable and His Ways inscrutable.

What is it that leaves this capable spokesman of the mysteries of God speechless?  In the eleventh chapter of Romans Paul writes by the Spirit’s inspiration about God’s dealings with His chosen people.  He recounts how God chose Israel, then hardened and rejected her because of her unbelief and chose the Gentiles to be His people instead.  He does not know how to process that information.  He knows that God chose Abraham’s children to be His special people so that the Messiah might be born of the Jews.  He knows that God miraculously saved Jacob’s family from famine through the life and trials of Joseph.  He is aware that He used “shock and awe” to deliver them from the hand of Pharaoh; that He fed them for forty years in the wilderness with bread from heaven; that He gave them a land of milk and honey and kept the people together for centuries, in spite of powerful enemies who wanted to destroy them.  He knows that God gave them prophets to keep them focused on the unique role they played in bringing salvation to the world, but when the Messiah finally came, His own people would not receive Him, but rather rejected Him and handed Him over to the Gentiles to be crucified, so God rejected them.

Why did God do this?  Paul cannot understand! Neither can we when God reveals His terrible wrath because of sin.  Who can search out why God sentenced all men under heaven to damnation because of the sin of one man?  Or why He condemned the entire human race and exterminated it by the flood, with the exception of eight souls?  And what of His judgment on Sodom, the Egyptians and the Canaanites whom Israel had to destroy when taking possession of the land, sparing no one?

Even today we see God’s judgment in play.  Who can say why millions of people for whom Christ purchased heaven by His death, continue in their sin and die without ever having heard His name?  Who can explain why the stygian darkness of heathenism again settles where the sun of God’s grace once shone brightly?  Who knows why saints suffer and evil men prosper, or why one believes and not the other?  These are the big unanswered questions which leave St. Paul, and men today flabbergasted.

Not only are God’s judgments beyond our ability to trace, His ways are inscrutable as well.  The term “ways” here refers to the grace and mercy that He provides for our salvation.  If His judgments are incomprehensible, so are His ways.  Consider the way God redeemed the fallen human race.  How in His wisdom was He was able to satisfy both His justice and His love?  What human wisdom would have dreamed that God Himself should become a man named Jesus, suffer and die, so that the lost world might be saved?  Not only this, but how should sinners hear of God’s amnesty in Christ?  If we were in charge we would say: let God’s voice speak it from the heavens to the whole earth so that all people will hear, believe and be saved.  Let an angel preach it from the pulpit every Sunday, then surely no one could resist.  But that’s not how God chooses to work.  Instead He delights in confounding the wisdom of the world with the foolishness of preaching, and the strong by utilizing what is weak and worthless in the sight of man.  Why else would He allow Aaron to be a priest, Saul to be the king, or a schizophrenic like Peter to be the Lord's chief disciple?  And if we had been asked to institute sacraments would we have chosen the common elements of bread, wine, water and words to give life to those who are dead in sin?  Or to revive our drooping spirits and restore the joy of salvation to us?  We cannot understand God’s ways but yet we must confess that only through Christ, as He is known in the Word and Sacraments, can any man be saved.

Yes, God's ways are mysterious, we know it from experience as well.  At times we plan things out long and carefully and when we are about to see our hopes fulfilled God says:  No! My ways are not your ways!  We find it extremely difficult to bow to His superior wisdom.  We cannot understand how: all things could possibly work together for our good, and we often ask:  Why?  At times like these we need to remember that for God’s children darkness always leads to light, and the cross to the crown.  Do not trust what you see in the mirror, or the judgments of other people.  In Christ you are heir to all the riches, wisdom and power of God, so there can be no doubt that all things will end well for you, however dark things might appear at this moment.

Nor will the confusion last forever.  The time is coming when God will unveil His judgments and open His ways to us.  We are nearer now than when we first believed.  How surprised we will be when all our questions are answered, all mysteries fall into place, and our fondest dreams come true with Christ.  Then surely we will fall on our knees before Him and exclaim with St. Paul:  Oh depth of riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  To Him be glory unto the ages. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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