A Creed for the 3rd Millennium Believes in a Provider
Since I can remember I've been held on the edge of the cliff of nuclear war, over population, pollution, global cooling, economic collapse, asteroid impact, global warming, or pandemics. Even perched on this cliff, a creed for the 3rd millennium we're now entering believes in a Provider, a Provider bigger and better than Mother Nature, Father Time, or the Big Guy in the Red Suit.
We believe in a Provider in the present tense. See the shift in tense in our confession: "has made me" and "has given me" past tense gives way to "still takes care of me," "gives me," and "provides for me" present tense. This is biblical. Luther didn't make this stuff up. Hebrews1:3 says, God "upholds all things by His powerful Word." Colossians 1:17 says, "In Jesus all things hold together." Psalm 145 says that God gives food at the proper time and satisfies the desire of every living thing.
We're not Deist. We don't believe that God created the world but then just let it go to function according to natural laws He created. We don't believe the Holy Spirit is merely being poetic when He talks about God opening His hand and satisfying the desire of ever living thing; or bringing the wind and rain out of His storehouses, or scattering the frost like ashes. A personal God the Father is behind all the "natural" functions of Mother Nature. If God had not commanded the sea "Stop, thus far you shall go and no more," it would keep coming no matter the sea level or abundance of Arctic ice.
We Christians in this 3rd Millennium are no Deists and neither are we humanists. We don't believe man is the measure of all things or that all things are in our hands. The Humanist Manifesto of 1973 proudly stated: "No deity will save us; we must save ourselves." Since humanists don't believe in an afterlife, they're talking about this one. Humanists believe unless humans control pollution, global warming (or cooling), disease, nuclear arms, etc. we are doomed. We don't believe we are at the mercy of what men can do or will do, but at the mercy of God.
I believe God still takes care of me. He gives me today, right now, clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children. He richly and daily provides me all that I need to support this body and life. In these short, memorable sentences we confess against three besetting sins: pride, despair, and dissatisfaction.
We confess against pride by saying not only didn't we create ourselves but we don't keep ourselves going. How hard this is for Americans to say who pride themselves in pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. When the kids were probably in their early teens, particularly the girls, I didn't do much gift shopping. But whenever they would open a gift whatever it was I would say, "I got that for you." They would respond, "You don't even know what it is." That was true for me, but not for God. Everything in our life is there because God got that for us, and He does know what it is. 1 John 2:16 says that boasting of what we have and do comes from the world. Our confessing that we believe in a God who made us and still provides for us puts a lid on such boasting.
Another thing we are confessing against in our 3rd millennium Creed is a despair that comes from the anxiety that we won't be provided for. By saying we believe in a God who not only created us but daily provides for us, we take ourselves out of the hands of men. My well-being, my family's well-being, is not dependent on whether I use one less plastic shopping bag, use one more gallon of water, reduce my carbon footprint, or march for nuclear disarmament. God doesn't even glance at what time is on the Doomsday Clock, the U.S. National Debt Clock, or the World Population Clock. You don't have to either.
By confessing to believe in a Provider of all my day to day needs, I confess against the pride that inflates me and the despair that deflates me, but there is one more thing I confess against: dissatisfaction with my place in life. God created the Order of Creation and the various estates in creation: Family, Church, State. God has placed each one of us within this system. We're men, women, mothers, fathers, clergy, laity, authorities, or citizens. We're where we are because it is part of God's providing for us and His providing for others.
Yet we chafe against our place. One writer notes, "It is a downright tragedy, which in some circumstances produces severe mental illness, when a person rebels against these limitationsThe end of it is constant feelings of inferiority, a secret quarrel with God and the lot He has imposed [on you]; the person rubs himself raw against it and finally becomes literally sick" (Teaching Luther's Catechism, 141). We're encouraged to be discontent with our lot, our portion, our place in life by our stories and the American Dream. The elf doesn't want to be an elf. George Bailey wants to be somewhere else. Santa doesn't want to be Santa in some stories. And the American Dream says you can be anything you want now even a man can be a woman - and nobody even smirks.
When I confess that I believe that God has made me and all creatures and that He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support not only this body but this life, i.e. my particular place in life, I am returning to my Creator and Provider: humbling and gratefully recognizing and accepting the limits within which God has placed me (Ibid.). What? Are we confessing to believe in a society where class and social standing are fixed? No, we are believing that God made us male or female, child or parent, pastor or people not by accident but on purpose. Just as the bird is suited to fly and the fish to swim we are suited for where God has placed us. I've seen birds dive into water and fish leap into the air, but neither stayed there.
A Creed suitable for this 3rd millennium believes in a Provider in the present tense thereby confessing against 3 basic sins that afflict us and reveling in the God who provides better than the Big Red One. He you know only provides for good little boys and girls. Our God provides for the just and unjust alike, and it's funny because His providing is rooted in the Christmas from which the ungracious Big Red One purports to come.
But we have to go a long way back before Christmas to see His providing grace clearly. We have to go back to the Flood. After God had wiped the earth clean of all but 8 people, He promised never to stop providing for it again. He promised in Genesis 8: "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." You don't see the utter grace of this promise until you hear God's words that precede it: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood."
Recognize that last clause about every inclination of man's heart being evil from childhood? The Lord said the same thing before the Flood. Gen. 6: "Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." God sees the same evil in the world after the cleansing Flood as before it, and yet promises to go on providing for it. If man's sins and sinfulness won't get in God's way then you can believe not rain, not snow, not global warming, over population, nuclear war, or pandemic will either.
We have to say more about this because unfortunately most people think of God like a cosmic Santa Claus. He ought to be able to "ho, ho, ho" our sins away. God should be able to just smile at them like a benevolent grandfather and provide for us in spite of our sins. Nothing could be further from the truth. It takes fatherly and divine goodness and mercy to do this.
When we speak of God the Father we're automatically thinking of God the Son. Apart from the Son, mankind stinks to high heaven. Apart from the Son, the wrath of God is all any of us know. Apart from the Son, no one is provided for. The Son willingly taking on our flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary was the first step. He descended to where we come from to bring us up to where He came from. The True God entered creation as a True Man and took our place. Not fully using His divine power as a Man, Jesus could endure all that sinners like us deserve.
Although He deserved all the blessings of God the Provider by living a perfect life, He got what sinners deserve: hunger, thirst, homelessness. If He had allowed the Creation to recognize Him, birds would have brought bread and meat as they did to the hungry Elijah; water would have sprung from rocks as it did for thirsty Israel. And wherever He laid His head there would have been the House of God as it was in Jacob's case.
But none of that happened. Instead the perfect Jesus suffered not just privation but brutalization for your sins. God the Father was angry beyond measure; only God the Son could satisfy such wrath. Only the Blood of God shed on the cross could put out the wrath of God burning against sins and sinners. Only the suffering of God could satisfy God's just demands for payment for sins against Him.
God providing for us is not only fatherly goodness and mercy, i.e. for God the Son's sake, but it's divine. We think we can get our head around God's goodness and mercy. It's like ours only bigger. Nope. I gladly provided for my children; I sometimes provide for some poor child, but I can't imagine providing for someone who hurt let alone killed a child of mine.and still laughed at doing so. But that's what Divine goodness and mercy does. He will raise His sun tomorrow on people who have done ungodly things in the night. God will provide food and drink for the nation of Islam and Israel that blaspheme the name of Jesus every day. He provides richly and daily for those who ridicule and persecute the Body of His Son, the Church.
Since this is the case, what of you His Son's very own Body? He, who provides for the bodies of others more generously and graciously even than Santa, will at least provide for His Son's Body as well as you do for your own. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek II (20120512); First Article