Monday, March 15, 2010

Enjoying the Miserable Stuff

If you are a surgeon, people are bound to die on your operating table.  And when that happens, you're gonna hafta tell their families that those people are dead.  It's a part of your job.  And it needs to be done.  But if this is the part of your job that you really enjoy, you should probably not be a surgeon.  If you burst out of the operating room, excited to tell Harriet about how you watched Merle's heart stop beating with your own two eyes, you don't really understand what it means to be in the business of saving lives.  If you went to medical school because your heart was warmed by the thought of telling people that their loved ones have kicked the bucket, you are messed up in the head.

And the same thing goes for being a pastor.  When it comes to being a pastor, people are bound to sin.  And when that happens, you're bound by God to preach the Law.  You are required to preach His word of condemnation, His word of wrath.  When people turn away from the One who bled for our salvation, you must tell them that they will not taste an ounce of that same salvation if they do not repent.  This is part of your job.  It needs to be done.  But if this is the part of your job that you really enjoy, you should probably not be a pastor.  If you ascend into the pulpit and just can't wait to tell people what rotten piles of excrement they are, you really don't understand what it means to be in the business of forgiving sins.  If you went to seminary because your heart was warmed by the thought of looking a guy in the eye and telling him that he's no longer a Christian, you are also a bit messed up in the head.

As pastors, we really shouldn't take delight in the alien work of God.  If you haven't heard this term we theologians use before,  the alien work of God essentially refers to God's wrathful reaction to sin, His proclaiming judgment upon those who won't turn from it, His punishment of those engaged in it.  God performs this alien work when He sends the fiery serpents among the grumbling Israelites in the wilderness, when He crushes unbelieving Judah through the means of Babylon, when He takes the breath out of Ananias and Sapphira. 

We call this God's alien work because it is, in fact, alien or foreign to His nature.  God did not create us to smash us into pieces.  He created us to love us.  God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world.  God is love.  He's all about love.  And whenever He deals in judgment and condemnation, He does this only to pave the way for the proclamation of mercy and salvation and not because He enjoys those rather nasty things.  To put it quite simply, God only does the miserable stuff (preaching the Law) in order to get to the good stuff (preaching the Gospel).

And if God didn't enjoy banishing Adam and Eve from the Garden or destroying Sodom, neither should we.   Just as a surgeon shouldn't enjoy telling people that their relatives are now dead, so we shouldn't enjoy condemning people for their sins.  Just as a teacher shouldn't enjoy telling a student she's failing, so we shouldn't enjoy telling people that they are sinners.  Doing so is absolutely necessary.  And we should always view it as such.  But we should also view it as uncomfortable, awkward and joyless.

But I don't know that we always feel this way about preaching the Law.  I know that I  often haven't.  There have been many times, far more than are excusable, that I have enjoyed proclaiming the word of condemnation, that I have relished speaking of the wrath of God.  On numerous occasions, as the words have poured out of my lips from the pulpit, and as as I have watched people squirm a bit in their pews, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.

But I shouldn't have enjoyed myself.  And the reason I shouldn't have enjoyed myself is because God didn't enjoy it.  Even though He has called me to break the legs of the sheep who wander in order to heal them and bring them home, He hasn't called me to get a thrill at the sound of the bones snapping.  It's the Pharisees who smile when this happens.  It's the Lord of life who weeps.  

And whenever we're preaching the Law like the Pharisees, we'll inevitably preach the Gospel like the Pharisees.  Which, of course, means that we won't really preach the Gospel at all.  Because whenever we feel like we've nobly finished our work for the day after we've condemned sinners, the Gospel will always be an after thought, even if words about the atonement make up 75% of the sermon.  Whenever we get our thrill by ripping people to pieces, we'll never feel compelled to find peace by piecing them back together with the blood of Christ.  Whenever the surgeon wants nothing more than to tell the next of kin that the guy on his table is dead, he'll never be terribly motivated to save the dude's life.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.


Amberg said...

I read and I'm waiting for another one. Get to work!

Libertas said...

Is it possible to enjoy preaching the law to the new man? Or, for the new man to enjoy hearing that law?

"For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being." ROM 7:22

Libertas said...

"The law always condemns." True, but doesn't it condemn the unbeliever and the old-man. Is condemnation all the law does? Is condemnation the essance of the law? Isn't the law an expression of God's perfect righteousness? Doesn't the law also act as a guide to our new nature?

Thanks ... "a frustrated Lutheran layman"