William Witt—Caller ID From the Source of the Universe: Another Providence Sermon
That Jesus is this Creator come among us is the heart of the story of how God deals with the bad things that happen. It is not just that Jesus calms the storm, but that he himself endures the worst storm that his creatures can throw at him. Recall another reference to the Jonah story in the gospels. Jesus stated: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40) At the deepest level of the biblical pattern of how God deals with evil is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In the biblical account, the very Creator of the Universe, who loves and cares for his creation, who does not abandon but rescues those in distress, rescues them by himself becoming one of them, and goes through what they go through. As Jonah sank into the depths, so Jesus faced the cross, and the greatest evil that humans fear, death itself. As Jonah was rescued from the depths, so God the Father rescued his Son by raising him from death on the third day.
In one of my favorite essays, Dorothy Sayers refers to the incarnation of God in Jesus as “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged.” (1) If the incarnation is true, she says, then, for whatever reason that God made human beings, “limited and suffering and subject to death – He had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair,” she writes. And, of course, a subset of the final theme is that the followers of Jesus, his church, share in his death and resurrection as we become his disciples through faith and the sacraments. So from top to bottom, from beginning to end, the Christian version of how it is that God deals with suffering and evil is that God loves and cares for his creation, but also takes it seriously, so seriously that he provides rescue and redemption from evil and suffering in that creation by taking the full consequences of death and evil on himself, and coming out on the other side, and taking us with him.
That has interesting implications....
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life
Preaching / Homiletics
Posted September 6, 2011 at 5:35 am
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1. New Reformation Advocate wrote:
Thanks, Kendall, for posting this excellent sermon on a topic that’s always welcome and crucial for preachers to address periodically, especially around the time of 9/11 each year.
Dr. Witt, BRAVO! Well done, as usual. A perceptive and stimulating way of addressing the perennial problem of why horribly bad things happen to some people.
Just one quibble. I don’t think you really did justice to Psalm 29, which doesn’t strike me as being as serene a peon of praise to God for his majestic sovereignty and loving care of his creation as you seem to take it to be. For example, the line you quote about “the voice” of the LORD (i.e., thunder claps, gale force winds) causing deer to give birth probably means that a very violent storm so thoroughly scares and petrifies pregnant does that they go into premature labor. Frank Cross has shown that Psalm 29 is a thinly veiled rewrite of the kind of Ugaritic/Canaanite poetry that praises the fearsome strength of Ba’al as the Storm God who mastered the forces of chaos. On the contrary, the psalmist insists, the real Master of all the forces of chaos and terror in the world is none other than the LORD, the God of Israel. He is the master of hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, wildfires, and all such natural disasters.
For the New Atheists, such frightening and disturbing events are proof positive that there is no God, or that the Deity doesn’t in fact care very lovingly for his creation. Like Marcion or the anicent Gnostics, they simply refuse to believe that any creator who made this sort of seemingly very flawed universe could be good. And that’s where I think that in our apologetics we must admit honestly that the witness of the created order is a somewhat ambiguous witness to the goodness of God, despite Romans 1 and the grandeur of the Rockies, etc. After all, Darwin had a valid point when he recoiled from the savageness of a world where carnivorous animals prey upon weaker ones, with all the violence done to each other unavoidably built into the whole system. Of course, we Christians can respond by pointing to the hope that in the future new heaven and new earth that awaits us at Christ’s return, all that will be changed forever (the “peaceable kingdom” vision in Isaiah 11 etc.). Some of what we see that disturbs us are just signs of the Fallenness of a world in rebelliion against its Creator, a world groaning along with humans for the redemption of all things (Romans 8).
But no one can say everything in one sermon. You did a splendid job, Bill, of driving home the glorious truth that although the Bible never attempts to explain the mystery of why so many horrible things happen to people that don’t deserve it, it does proclaim the more important truth that the Almighty Lord of all things willingly chose to suffer all that we suffer, and thus redeemed it forever through the greatest mystery of all, the death and resurrection of God’s Son on behalf of a sinful, corrupt humanity that scorned its Maker and Sustainer. You are absolutely right in pointing to the Crucifixion as the ultimate sign that the God we believe in, love, and serve as Christians is none other than Immaneul, God With Us, in all our agony and pain, a God whose goodness and loving care for us we can trust.
P.S. Bill, I know you and I have a very different evaluation of the theological merits of the work of John Henry Newman, you being far more critical of him than I am, but I couldn’t help noticing that you posted that fine sermon on your blog on August 11th, which is, of course, the Feast of Newman, who died on that day in 1890.
September 8, 2:47 pm | [comment link]
2. William Witt wrote:
Fair enough critique, David. That reading might have changed my sermon, but not by much. The particular commentary I used read the Psalm as a Hymn of Praise. In both readings, the focus is on God’s presence in and sovereignty over creation. And, of course, there is also the canonical way of reading the Psalm as one of many that speaks of our knowledge of God in creation. God can be known both in his goodness as Creator (Gen. 1), but also as the force behind nature’s destructive power (Job). I did mention not only the sense of awe and beauty that we encountered on our trip, but also the sheer terror of looking over a several thousand foot drop. And of course, certainly, the fierceness of creation is evident in the Gospel reading in which Jesus walks across the water during a raging storm.
September 10, 2:05 pm | [comment link]
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