Full Text for Who Is a God Like Thee? (Text)

Who Is a God Like Thee? Delivered in the Semiwary Chcrpel on Alay 22, 1973 0 NE OF MANY LINES of continuity between the Testaments, one of the many points where the Old ancl the New are met together and ltiss each other is the motif of the last ~crses of R/licall: the sustained joyous astonishment of forgiven men at God the For- giver. And this sustained astonishment n~arlts our Confessions t~; the men of the Reformation arc crying, "IAJho is a God like thee?" When they confess that the God of Augustana I is of such "immeas- urable power, wisdom, and goodness" that He can cross victoriously over the fearful chasm of man's sin, that De Filio I)ei and De Iustificationc can follow upon ,f)e I'cccato Qrigil~is, that there can be that wilclly improbablc miracle of a IVord of God proclaimed to set men free for new obcclience, that there can be a new peoplc of God perpetuo mansam, triumphing over death. He forgives, this God wlthout compare. He forgi~es freely trnd sovereignly because "He delights in steadfast love." Thcre is in His forgiving none of that grudging weariness that is thc mark, too often, of our forgiving: "IVell, maybe the bum does have some redeeming qualities after all; let him go." Our God does not operate with "redeeming qualities"; He works with rcdeerning love. His action is not that easy "acceptance" on which we pride ourselves but forgive- ness, forgiveness in the face of "anger," forgiveness in the face of judgment, forgiveness for the "remnant" who have bowed before that judgment. His forgiven people say, "Whcn I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light." They do not reckon with a general benev- olence, with a slack and slovenly divine good nature. They look with astonishment to the forgiving love of their Judge, to a forgiveness to which "His sons . . . come trembling" (Hos. 1 1-1 0-1 1 ). Our God forgives compassionntely and therefore wholly and effectually. He treads our iniquities under foot and casts all our sins into the depths of the sea. Micah's language recalls the story of Israel's release from Egypt. God deals with our sins as He deals with the enenlies of His peoplc: "You shall never see them again," He told His people concerning the Egyptians and tells them concerning their sins.-"So wir's glaube~z," as Luther says. It is not God but our perversity of little faith that builds dreary museums for the con- templation of drowned Egyptians. Our God forgives; and in His forgiving we have to do, not with a principle, an idea, a conception, but with an act. Forgiveness is as actual as the Exodus, as actual as Jacob, as Abraham, as the fathers, as the oath sworn by the living God by His living self-as actual as Jesus of Nazareth, as actual as history under a Roman procurator, sub Pontio Pilato, as actual as crucifixion and resurrec- tion, "publically portrayed," officially by God ~imsclf (Gal 3 : 1). Forgiveness is an overt, irreversible act. You may refuse it, but you cannot undo it. You cannot fiddle with it, modify, or rerllake it. It is there, as real as "Rise LIP and ~~alli"--:t~ real as Jesus' "I will; be thou clean." [Some nlorning when you feel particularly leyrous and lool< ~13011 your face in tlhe tnirror and ask, "Can God love that ?"- remember that ttvo-~vord Greelc absolution of our Lord : l"helo, kntharistheti!] This is old stuff; as old as sin itself, ;;fniost as old as the hills ancl the enduring foundations of the earth ~vhich the Lord sumi~loned as witnesses against His people (Micah 6 : 1-5). Ancl, God forgive us, ~vc tend to grow weary of this manna : "our souls loatlie this worthless food." Wc have developed n cliseasecl passion for the "new and improved," for "new and exciting" (IVill no one rid us of these pesti- Ient acljectivcs?) theologies from over the sea. \Ye are told, more- over, that modern inan is no longer in searcl.1 of a gracious God; he is not looking for forgiveness. His disease is not guilt, but a sense of lostness, insignificance, futility. He feels, not unforgiven but un- wanted. Conceding for the ~liolnent that there is such a thing as "i~lodcrll man" (The modern 111~11 I meet are all kissing cousins to the Inen I lllcet in Genesis or Homer), the question is, obviously, not ~vhethcr hc wants forgivel2ess but whether Ile jteeds it. Does he need it? Me seems to have all the symptoms of the unforgiven man. The forgiven man, we read in 12ulce, "justifies God" (Lk 7 : 29) Hc accepts God's verdict on his sin as a true verdict and glorifies God for admitting him into the I!e\~'ncss collies into our life with every praying of the Fifth Petition, lvitl~ every absolution, with every "and give thee peace." And "nlodern man's" question of identity (Do I couat? Do I matter?) gets solved too. To be inscribed in God's booli, to be a citizen in God's people, a inenlber of God's household, a living stone in God's telnple, the apple of God's eye, snug under the shelter of His wing, sustained by the everlasting arlns-what identity-seeker could aslc for more than that? So, what else is new? IVitl-lout forgiveness, nothing. "Nothing is strong, nothing is holy." And nothing we can do will make it strong and holy and new. No burnt offerings, no calves a ycar old, no rivers of oil-no colnmittees, con~missions, task forces, cadres, structures, statistics, computers, or all the dreary etcetera of our business. Shall we give our firstborn for our transgressions and the fruit of our body for the sin of our soul? R4illions of young men dead in thousands of wars cry out: No! No newness there: and in our day God's trumpets blast that No into every ear. Whatever zve do, we relnai~~ crooked men walking crooked miles and end up being hell to one another in a crooked house. But with forgiveness, then we begin to walk humbly with our God and learn to walk a straight mile, doing justice and loving mercy. Then we can cast our anxieties (which twist us crooked) on Him, the Forgiver, who cares about us, who has given His Son for us. Our crooked, constricted hearts are enlarged, and the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents calls forth a new song on earth. Our crooked little house will become liveable under the sky of forgiveness: there will be freedom there, and humor, a capacity for self-criticism and growth, wise charity, and wisdom that roots in the fear of Him with whom there is forgiveness.-Joy of men begotten to a living hope.