Monday, January 27, 2014

The Foolishness of Grace

    St. Paul says, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

    When I was young, I stumbled upon Greek and Norse mythology.  I loved it.  I was enamored with the stories about the gods who lived on Mount Olympus or in Asgard.  I read about the exploits of Zeus, Hera, Ares, Hermes, and all the other Greek gods.  I loved the tales of the demi-gods Theseus, Perseus, Hercules, and others.  Their uncommon strength and power made me imagine that I too was stronger than others and capable of doing heroic things.  I’d imagine myself taking on 12 tasks that required all my great strength or battling mythic monsters.

    Or, I’d imagine myself wielding Mjolnir, the mythical hammer of Thor.  I’d imagine myself fighting frost giants and soaring into the air sending lightning bolts into my enemies.  I’d imagine having to deal with the mischievousness of Loki or overseeing all of the realms as did Odin.  These stories fascinated me.  Why?

    Because of the power these gods wielded.  They were powerful.  Nothing seemingly could defeat them.  They conquered in battle.  They had their way with less powerful beings.  In fact, the idea of a god taking on human flesh was not unique to Christianity.  The Greeks had myths about such things happening long, long before the faith called Christianity or the birth of Christ.

    But there is an important difference between Greek mythology and Christianity–a very important difference.  Nowhere in Greek mythology does a god come to earth in self-sacrificial terms.  Nowhere in Greek mythology or Norse mythology does a god come to earth to offer himself or herself for the sake of others.  In almost every case the gods come down to partake of something they desire for themselves; never do they come down for the sake of the world.  And they certainly do not die for the world.  The gods of Greek and Norse mythology are all about power; rarely do they ever come to serve, and they certainly do not die for us.

    This is one of the reasons the message about the cross was seen as absolute foolishness.  No one would believe that God would come to earth and die.  No one.  The Greeks had their myths, and their gods didn’t die.  The Jews believed in an Almighty God who was one; who was immortal; who was beyond the earth; who was all powerful; and that God would not die either.  It was humankind who had to work hard to earn the favor of God.  We had to strive to do the right things or face God’s wrath.  That was the way things worked.  It was the way things had always worked.  To claim anything else was utter foolishness.

    I mean, who in the world would ever think that God would take on flesh?  Who would ever think that God would take on mortality?  Who would ever think that God would impose upon Himself such limitations?  How dare anyone thing that God could catch a cold?  Or have to feed Himself?  Or have to have parents who cared for Him as an infant changing His diapers?  Who would dare to think that God would suffer from heat exhaustion, or hunger, or thirst?  Who would dare to claim that God suffered pain or sadness?  Such things were almost beyond human comprehension.

    And it would be utter foolishness to claim that God would die.  God doesn’t die.  God is immortal.  God is all powerful and all knowing.  Such a being is beyond death–beyond the limits of our physical capability or incapability. 

    Push that a little further and try to grasp the idea that God would die so that humankind might live.  Now, we’ve entered into a whole new realm.  This idea is so far-fetched, it’s quite amazing.  But is it?

    Just this last week, I was asked by one of my children, “Dad, why did God die?”  Yeah, try answering that question for a five year old. 

    I responded, “Let's pretend for a minute.  Let's say that Daddy told you not to drink Dr. Pepper and play with his Kindle at the same time.  But, one day, you decided to do that."

    "I'd NEVER do that!"

    "I know, but let's pretend.  Let's pretend that you did anyway, and you spilled Dr. Pepper on my Kindle. 
The Kindle got broke and wouldn't work anymore.  Could you fix it?"


    "Who would buy me a new one, then?"

    "I would."

    "Do you have any money to do that?  Could you buy it for me?"

    "No.  I couldn't."

    "But someone has to pay for it?  Who else could pay for it?"

    "You could."

    "That's right.  I could, and I would.  But I would still have to pay for it.  If something gets broken, it has to be fixed, and somebody has to pay for it.  If you can't pay for it, I can, and I can forgive you.  That's what God did on the cross."


    "Adam and Eve broke the relationship with God."

    "How'd they do that?"

    "They didn't listen to God, and they didn't trust God."


    "And when they didn't listen to God and trust God, it allowed all the bad stuff to happen in the world.  It allowed death; it allowed pain; it allowed sickness.  It was bad.  And the punishment had to fit the crime.  Adam and Eve couldn't fix it.  We can't fix it.  Adam and Eve couldn't pay for it.  We can't pay for it.  So, who had to pay for it?"


    "That's right.  God."

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.

    And here’s the icing on the cake.  God died and doesn’t demand that we change.  God died for you and me and then says, “I have shown you how much I love you.  I have prepared a place for you.  Now, it’s up to you how you choose to live your life.  You can continue to do the same things you did before.  You can continue to rebel against me and seek your own self-interest above the interest of your neighbor.  Or, you can spend the rest of your life in thanksgiving for what I have done and seeking to love me and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

    What foolishness!

    Imagine God saying such a thing!  I mean, in our society today, we know how it really works.  We have to pass laws restricting people.  We have to come up with all sorts of punishments to make sure people fear breaking the law.  If you step out of line, well, then you will face the consequences.  Keep people in fear, and they will toe the line.  Force them to care for one another.  Force them to pay to take care of the poor.  Force them to buy certain cars and light bulbs.  Force them to respect their neighbor’s property.  Keep them fear-full.  It’s the only way to make change happen.

    You certainly cannot allow them freedom.  You certainly cannot love them first and expect them to change because of that love.  You can’t expect them to change because someone would be willing to serve them and love them first.  That is utter and complete foolishness... those who are perishing.  But for those of us who have experienced the grace of God; for those of us who know the message of the cross; for those of us who know Christ died for us and freed us from the wrath of God; this is how we Live God’s Word Daily.  Amen.

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