Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God?

I began this blog by saying that going to a football game has become more exciting than going to church, and wondering how that could be. In so doing I came to the conclusion that we Christians don’t fully experience the reality of God’s presence in our lives. There are several reasons for this and I’ve discussed three of them. 1. Early church fathers didn’t allow the belief that we could have such an experience and succeeded in eliminating all the evidence that said otherwise. 2. The church, from its position as go-between, teaches a separation theology which infers that God exists in a heavenly realm set apart from man. 3. We don’t have a full understanding of the Holy Spirit and what it means that he is alive in us.
There is another reason which is just as debilitating. We’ve been taught to believe that we’re sinners in the eyes of a God who demands justice before reconciliation can be made. It’s very difficult to draw near and feel close to someone you think holds a grievance against you. Many Christians who’ve repented and claim to be forgiven don't seem to be sure they’ve done enough. There is historical tradition that fuels this uncertainty.

Fearing that his congregation was falling away from the faith, renowned 18th century theologian Jonathan Edwards began a revival in Northampton, Massachusetts that became known as the Great Awakening. In 1741 he set the stage for future fire and brimstone preachers by “awakening” the church to these fearful thoughts: 

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in! You hang by a slender thread over a great furnace of fire held up by the hand of one whose wrath is provoked against you. It would be dreadful to suffer the fierce wrath of Almighty God for one moment; but you will suffer it for all eternity. There will be no end to this horrible misery. When you look to the future you will see a boundless duration lying before you. It will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul. And you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any rest at all. You will know with certainty that you must suffer for millions and millions of ages in accordance with God’s merciless vengeance. And then, when so many ages have been spent by you in this manner, you will know that it has only been a moment compared to what remains. The horror of your punishment will indeed last forever.

Authorized as church doctrine and offered for scholastic study in religious Colleges and Universities, this frightening message may sound overly dramatic today, but it hasn’t been easily dismissed from our culture. We still sing these words in my church every Sunday as we continue to speak the reality of our unworthiness into existence, thinking it will somehow excuse us and maybe soften the heart of God.

Lord of our shame. Lord of our sinful hearts.
I know I’m undeserving, so I get down on my face and call out to you.
Help me know you are near.
Here I am, knowing I’m a sinful man.
Naked and poor, wretched and blind I come
Break these chains. Wash these filthy stains.
Clothe me in white so I won’t be ashamed.

Is it any wonder we feel separate from a Holy God? Is it any wonder we go to church and pray to him, and sing to him, and listen to stories about him, and then leave without any feeling that we’ve been in his presence?  

In order to overcome the idea that we’re separate from God we’ve got to come to an understanding of two things. 1. We have created that idea ourselves, and 2. We can un-create it anytime we want to. We are separate from God only as a cup of water drawn from the ocean. As the water retains the true nature of what it was in the ocean, so we, drawn from God in the beginning, have retained the true nature of what we are in him. 

Imbued with the gift of creativity by God, we have created the separation we’re experiencing. Imbued with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we’re beginning to see what we’ve done.  

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