Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Holiness of God, Chapter 5

As I began this chapter of Sproul's book, I was hoping for a rebound from what I saw as an Of Mice and Men fiasco. I was met with a chapter that I truly appreciated. I have never read a biography of Luther, and so I found the narrative of his story fascinating. After all, it's good and comforting to know that flatulence even plagues monks. I'm not sure about recommending it to my congregation as "a most effective device to repel the attacks of the devil" (p. 78), but it sure did make me giggle.

Of course, the thing which captivated me most was the reason Sproul included all this information...namely, Luther's pre-conversion response to the holiness of God. He was terrified...he was speechless. It is challenging and humbling to read of an unbeliever's fear-filled view of approaching God. My only inability to be in front of a group and not produce sound came in the ninth grade, when I tried to sing my first duet (with a girl I had a crush on, no less). I stood in front, the music began, I opened my mouth, and nothing came out. All my practice ended with embarrassment and the crushing of my naive delusion of potentially dating a senior!

That's not the case with Luther. What made him silent in front of others was the palpable sense of the One he was approaching in worship. As Sproul recounts, "He was supposed to say the words, 'We offer unto thee, the living, the true, the eternal God.'" However, that's not what happened, and his reflection on that moment is what really pierced me. Luther wrote, "At these words I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, 'With what tongue shall I address majesty, seeing that all men ought to tremble in the presence of an earthly prince? Who am I, that I should life up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty? The angels surround him. At his nod the earth trembles. And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say, "I want this, I ask for that"? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living, eternal and true God'" (p. 80).

I suppose I could go on a rant about how "evangelicalism" has made approaching God too casual, but that's the easy way out. "They" are out there as undefined group of people with whom I don't interact. I'm sure "they" are out there, but again, it seems that God wouldn't have me focus there. It seems that I ought to re-evaluate how I approach God. The King James Version of Romans 2:11 says, "For there is no respect of persons with God." God need not be a respecter of persons, for He is God, and we are not. However, it seems that it is all too easy to reverse the verse...for there is no respect of God with persons.

God graced Martin Luther, as an unregenerate man, with an appropriate fear of God...not simply a fear of hell or of consequences, but a fear of God. That fear of God silenced him, it enraged him, and it confounded him until God graciously opened his eyes to see "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4b).

Now, I understand that I can come boldly to the throne of grace seeking mercy and grace, and I think it's inappropriate for a child of God (i.e.- an object of mercy) to have the same kind of fear as an object of wrath. However, the overwhelming sense of holiness that Luther experienced is needed more in this heart of mine.