Miracles

Psalm 107:1; 15; 22

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!

22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

I’ve doubled back around to Psalm 107 because it has been on my mind the last few days. If I were to break it down further, it’s really these three verses. March 10, 2018, Hannah and I had our first child, a boy named Julian. I foresee some of this blog ultimately turning into things that I want him to know about the world, about life, and about God, but that’s for another time. Right now, I want to give thanks.

I want to give thanks to God for the miracle of childbirth. I have never witnessed something more awe-inspiring. It will stop you dead in your tracks and give you all the emotions at once. I already thought pregnancy was a really amazing thing, and I still do. Pregnant women literally grow humans inside of them. It’s mind-boggling that this human boy that I can now hold was once roughly the same size as the diameter of a single strand of hair.

But Birth? Birth is the process of all that internal effort coming to fruition. The baby begins to physically separate from the mother and stake his claim in our world. Julian has existed for the last several months, but his existence changed 3 days ago in a way that I can’t comprehend. In fact, even if I understand the biology of what’s going on, I still can’t comprehend the ways in which his personhood will be shaped and developed. There is, of course, a biological element to this, which is already imprinted in his DNA, but there is also an environmental element, which is a future that I can’t see. He will be a combination of both me and his mother in some ways, but in many many other ways, he will be uniquely himself.

I’m elated to witness this process of change and development upon which he will embark. I’m overwhelmed by the possibility of things he can experience, positive or negative, far more overwhelmed than I have ever been about the possibility of things I could experience. There’s a lot of mystery moving forward, but what I do know is that God’s steadfast love endures forever. I’m confident in this. I’m largely confident in this because people for multiple millennia have testified to it. This very passage from Psalm 107 could’ve been written over 3000 years ago. The same steadfast love that’s testified to in verse 1 is the same love that I feel in moments like this, and it’s the same love that will be there for my son as he grows into the man that he was created to be.

So, how could I not give thanks for His wondrous works to children of man? The only response I can fathom is to tell of this love and to tell of His deeds (verse 22). I witnessed a miracle at 12:13 A.M. on March 10, and the amazing thing is that it’s so commonplace I’ve taken it for granted my whole life. Children are born every day, 250 times a minute, in fact.

I started this blog to help me find truth in every day occurrences, but I wasn’t expecting to find miracles. Thank you, Lord.

Provider

Genesis 22:1-14

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

Let me start by saying that this is a long passage. That means I won’t be addressing every question that it might raise. What I want to do with a passage like this, as uncomfortable as it is, is to try to understand it within the greater context of the book of Genesis and the Bible as a whole.

First, does Abraham believe that he will actually have to sacrifice his son? If you remember a few days ago, we looked at an earlier passage in Genesis when God promises to give Abraham a son and tells him that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars. Abraham knows this promise and knows that his and Sarah’s only son will need to be alive in order for this promise to come to fruition. We know that Abraham is a man who has faith (Romans 4 & Hebrews 11) and believes what God has promised, but to sacrifice his son would be a direct contradiction.

Here is verse 8, Abraham says, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” He very well could be lying to Isaac in order to get him to go up with him, but what if he actually does believe that God will provide a lamb for them instead? The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham believed that if he went through with it, God would be able to raise Isaac from the dead. Either way, Abraham knew that the promises God made to him regarding Isaac would hold true. He knew that God would be faithful to His word. He knew that God would provide.

Abraham Isaac
Valentin de Boulogne

I mentioned before that this passage was uncomfortable. In some ways, I think that’s the point. When we take a longer view and examine the allusion it provides of Jesus, you’ll see what I mean. For Abraham and Isaac, God provided a way for them to still be obedient without Abraham having to sacrifice his son. Maybe the punch has been taken out of what is actually communicated in John 3:16 because of its popularity, but isn’t it saying the same thing? God sacrificed His son Jesus as a sin offering on our behalf. For some reason, this doesn’t make us as uncomfortable. It’s a powerful display of the love that God actually has for us that He would do that and of the love that Jesus has for us that he would willingly go.

Maybe the passage of Abraham and Isaac is intended to be uncomfortable because it communicates the harsh realities of the cross. In both stories God provides a way for His promises to come to fruition and ultimately a way into relationship with Him. If we want to tie this into our Lenten theme, there is clearly beauty embedded in the discomfort, beauty embedded in the brokenness. We find ourselves broken from any number of things, but God has provided a way for us to be seen as whole, and that is beautiful.

Prayer and Reflection

Pray for God to show you places in your past when he has provided. If you have a hard time coming up with things and feel like God never provides for you, think about how a difficult situation could’ve been worse. Most things could always go worse than they actually do.

Sorrow and Joy

Last Saturday, I departed from what is becoming my normal routine of biblical passage and commentary to share a prayer from Thomas Merton. I think I’ll make a similar departure this morning, but instead of a prayer, I’ll offer a poem. This particular poem is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison and it’s entitled Sorrow and Joy. Bonhoeffer was not exactly known for his poetry, but he was known for having a brilliant theological mind and this poem shows his ability to make deep connections.

His insights in this poem are powerful. He considers the natures of both sorrow and joy and finds that they compliment one another far closer than a first glance may give you. He suggests that time can easily make a moment of poignancy become suffering when dragged on too long. The poem ends with a beautiful reminder that it is at the moment of our callousness in the face of difficulty that we have to make a choice to fight against it. We can “fight the face of sorrow” with loyal hearts, not allowing ourselves to become uncompassionate because of our circumstance.

If you don’t know who Bonhoeffer is, I would suggest you take the time to read his story. It’s difficult to find a more compelling story of faith and courage in the face of oppression.

Sorrow and joy,
striking suddenly on our startled senses,
seem, at the first approach, all but impossible
of just distinction one from the other,
even as frost and heat at the first keen contact
burn us alike.
Joy and sorrow,
hurled from the height of heaven in meteor fashion,
flash in an arc of shining menace o’er us.
Those they touch are left
stricken amid the fragments
of their colorless, usual lives.

Imperturbable, mighty,
ruinous and compelling,

sorrow and joy
—summoned or all unsought for—
processionally enter.
Those they encounter
they transfigure, investing them
with strange gravity
and a spirit of worship.
Joy is rich in fears;
sorrow has its sweetness.
Indistinguishable from each other
they approach us from eternity,
equally potent in their power and terror.

From every quarter
mortals come hurrying,
part envious, part awe-struck,
swarming, and peering
into the portent,
where the mystery sent from above us
is transmuting into the inevitable
order of earthly human drama.
 
What, then, is joy? What, then, is sorrow?
Time alone can decide between them,
when the immediate poignant happening
lengthens out to continuous wearisome suffering,
when the labored creeping moments of daylight
slowly uncover the fullness of our disaster,
sorrow’s unmistakable features.
Then do most of our kind
sated, if only by the monotony
of unrelieved unhappiness,
turn away from the drama, disillusioned,
uncompassionate.
 
o ye mothers and loved ones — then, ah, then
comes your hour, the hour for true devotion.
Then your hour comes, ye friends and brothers!
Loyal hearts can change the face of sorrow,
softly encircle it with love’s most gentle
unearthly radiance.

The Faith Key

Romans 4:1-12

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

This passage is a long one, but I think it’s an important continuation from the passage we looked at yesterday and paints a beautiful picture of the framework God uses for us to enter into relationship with Him.

Yesterday we looked at the Genesis passage in which Abraham believed the Lord. Here, today, we have the Apostle Paul in the Letter to the Romans explaining a foundational belief for many Christians, justification by faith, or sola fide. It’s important that we get this right, and I’ll try to do it as quickly as I can.

Justification (in Christian theology) is an act of God in which God pardons the sinner and accepts that person as righteous. It is the act in which God looks at you who is broken like you’re whole, and not just looks at but fully treats you, not as broken but as complete The theological question is not about whether God does this or doesn’t do this, but the question is, “what makes Him do this?” Justification by faith, sola fide, says that it was in Christ’s death that a switch was made, and we who have faith in Christ receive His righteousness, while he received our penalty (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus did this willingly, laying down His life for His people.

That raises another question though, who exactly are “His people?” All of the talk about circumcision in this Romans passage tells us something about that. For the traditional Jewish person at the time, circumcision was the sign that showed that you were a part of God’s people. It was this outward expression that proved your righteousness. Paul is  showing that faith is the indicator of righteousness, not circumcision, and he does this by explaining that Abraham was called righteous before he was circumcised because he “believed the Lord.”

That’s truly all it takes to be seen by God as whole, as righteous. Sometimes we overcomplicate this process and want to provide a laundry list of the things we’ve done that make us a good person, but that isn’t the rubric God uses. He’s looking for faith. Faith is the key that unlocks the door to relationship. That doesn’t mean that once we have faith that we just sit and wait until we die to join Him. It means that we join Him now in the renewal of all things. He, indeed, calls us to work, but the work isn’t what gets us to Him.