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Lent reflections (2)

March 5th, 2008 by isaac · No Comments

(Here’s another unedited Lenten reflection that I wrote for the Mennonite magazine, Leader).

The only true God is the God of freedom. The other gods make you feel at home in a place, they have to do with the quiet cycle of seasons, with the familiar mountains and the country you grew up in and love; with them you know where you are. But the harsh God of freedom calls you out of all this into a desert where all the old familiar landmarks are gone, where you cannot rely on the safe workings of nature, on spring-time and harvest, where you must wander over the wilderness waiting for what God will bring.

Herbert McCabe, Love, Law and Language (Continuum, 2003), p. 118.

Lent 2: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 3-17; John 3:1-17.

To leave it all behind. To wander into the unknown with nothing to hold onto… only a promise of something wonderful to come. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (Gen. 12:1). Abram turns his back on the familiar, and walks into a foggy horizon, an unknown future. And he leaves behind all his securities and the good life for which he has worked so hard, because God offered him a glimpse of something unimaginable—a destiny full of wonderful mysteries.

But how can anyone live on a promise? Promises don’t pay the bills. We need predictability, something we can depend on—if I give you this, then I get that; if I do that, then usually this happens, etc. But Paul commends Abraham as our example of faith because Abraham leaves behind a safe and predictable life, and instead trusts in the unseen, the unpredictable—the grace of God. It’s not like an economic exchange, Paul says: “to one who works, wages are not credited as a gift of grace, but as a something due” (Rom. 4:4). Instead, Abraham sets out without any familiar guarantees, except the promise of God’s grace—the promise rests on grace, Paul says (4:16).

This is the same God of unpredictable grace that Jesus tells Nicodemus about: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (Jn. 3:8). The Spirit of God moves like the wind—here and there, this way and that, with “sovereign freedom,” as the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth says, “and cannot in any sense be controlled by us” (CD 4/2: 341). And Jesus invites Nicodemus and “the whole world” (3:16)—which means us—to loosen our tight grasp on the lives we make for ourselves, and trust in the Holy Spirit who leads us into the way of eternal life, the path revealed to us through Jesus Christ.

The God of Abraham calls us into a new world, a new life, a new birth. As we follow God’s voice, we abandon our old lives to the unpredictable Spirit, and find ourselves re-born in the eternal life of Christ, who came “in order that the world might be saved through him” (3:17). As we gather together for worship, we assemble as the body of Christ and learn the wind-like movements of the Spirit as God leads us into the mysterious riches of eternal life, a life that we receive as a free gift of grace. The church is the place where we learn how to trust God as we trust one another; it’s the place where we begin to taste the eternal life of God as we share what we have with one another; it’s the place where we learn how to feel the breath of the Holy Spirit as we listen to what God speaks to us through the body of his Son, the body of Christ, the church, us.

As we gather to worship God, John Milbank writes, “we give up everything ‘absurdly’ to God in order to confess our inherent nothingness and to receive life in the only possible genuine mode of life, as created anew. Here we hold on to nothing, here we possess nothing securely” (Being Reconciled, p. 161). And we do so, knowing that we do not need to worry about our lives, because that’s what God promises to do for us. This is faith in God’s grace; this is the faith of Abraham.

Tags: theology