Questions of Faith - Questions of Doubt. But How?
College is a time for questioning. Many of you who have been raised in pious, faithful Christian homes find all sorts of questions and doubts bombarding you. Sometimes you feel wise; sometimes you feel worried; sometimes you feel guilty. But let me tell you this. These doubts, these questions of faith that plague you, are nothing compared to the doubts and questions that plague your professors and pastors. As we age, doubts and questions don't go away, they just get bigger.
How dare I say that! Don't I know that people mature in the faith, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, age from faith to faith. I didn't say that they don't. I only said that doubts and questions mature, grow and age as well. You know what the remedy for them is? The question put before us today, "But how?" How can a question resolve a question? Read the Book of Job. Thirty-seven chapters of questions and doubts are resolved when God shows up and puts question after question to Job.
This week you've asked and answered the questions "Saved from?" and "Saved For?" Today we have "But How?" The answer to this question is to some extent in the asking. You see if you were going to another Christian college, there would be no "but" about it. The theme would have simply been "how?" Then the preacher would tell you that it's a matter of you giving your heart to Jesus. Then the preacher would tell you that it's a matter of the sovereignty of God working in the unfathomable depths of the Godhead. Then the preacher would show you it's a matter of staying connected to the Church, the distributor of all grace.
And you know what? There are shades of truth in all of these answers, but they don't deal with the "but." But I'm wondering, is there really a "but?" in your mind at all? Maybe that's why you have all these doubts and questions about a 1,000 religious things? You have time to spend trying to get your heart or your head around this or that theological truth because you see your being saved as a small deal, an easy matter. "Yeah, yeah, Jesus died on the cross for my sins. Enough said; now let's move on to more interesting things." Dear friend, if this is your view, you belong at another college where the grace of God is an easily understood thing, where salvation is simply a matter of deciding this or believing that. Here there is a "but" in front of the "how" because we know we cannot get our head or our heart around the riches of God's grace in Christ.
Don't misunderstand. There is no doubt, no question that God has worked out the how of our salvation. God has a how. The problem is not God but us. To us, there is no possible way for us to be saved; that's why we ask "But how?" and not simply "How?" Actually it is not a matter of saving "us" is it? It seems relatively easy for God to save the world or all of you all, but me? This is where St. Peter ends up when he falls at the feet of Christ saying, "Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man." This is where St. Paul ends up when he moans in Romans 7, "O wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death."
Right here at this most personal point is where all our questions and doubts center: How can the Lord save me? You see, I don't know your sins, but I do know mine. I don't know your weakness, but I do know mine. I don't know your shames, your filthiness, your wretchedness, but I do mine. How can God redeem this? How can Christ save this? How can I ever be free from this constant nagging doubt that the Absolution doesn't really apply to me, to my sins?
You know what my problem is? I am trying to understand the foolishness of God. I am trying to make grace make sense. Paul starts down this road in Romans 5 saying, "Look, it's rare for someone to die for a righteous man, and maybe someone would die for a good person, but that's about it." Yes, there is just no possible way for God to save me. Maybe if I were a little better; maybe if I weren't so bad, but I'm too far over the edge, too long lost, too deep in sin.
And of course, I'm right. Christ admits as much saying that the salvation of sinners is an impossibility with man. No man, woman, or child is able to understand how God can save the sinner. Beware, dear friends, beware if you think you do. Then you are the rich young man who thought it was indeed possible for a man to be saved, he just didn't know how. All he wanted Jesus to do was to tell him the HOW; there was no BUT for him.
But there is for you and I. There was for St. Paul too, but he doesn't try to answer it. No, he trumps all our doubts and questions not with explanations to satisfy the mind, but with the Gospel that goes right to the soul. He says incredible things like "Christ died for the ungodly." The blood of Christ dripped so far down the depths of humanity it reached all the way to the ungodly. That means it reached me too. But what about the fact that sin still torments me and oppresses me daily? Paul trumps that with: "while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." Did you get that? The fact that I'm a still a sinner does not invalidate the grace of God towards me. Neither Satan, nor others, not even my own conscience can hold my daily sins and shortcomings before me and say they prove I can't be saved. Christ's blood says otherwise.
I taught an adult confirmation class once in Louisiana where 3 college students put me through the mill. About the only thing they didn't question was the prayer at the beginning of class. There were so many questions we could hardly get through the material. Finally, I said, "You're just going to have to write all your questions down and I will deal with them individually at the end of the class." Well, one woman showed up with a 3 ring binder full of paper. She had pages of questions! But do you know what happened? It turns out her only real question was, "But how can I be saved?" Tears streamed from her eyes as the Gospel came home to this troubled sheep, and as she looked at her notebook she said, "You know these don't seem all that important now." And they weren't. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Concordia College Chapel, Thursday, Pentecost XVIII (10-19-00)
Mark 10: 17-27