Saturday, 31 December 2005

looking on the bright side

I've been enjoying much time in books once more, firstly with Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. I'd like to share the following quotation: long but worth reading [from pp.134-135 of 1924 New York edn.]. I suppose it could be a thought for the New Year: In what will we find joy this year? With what will we encourage each other this year? On what will we meditate this year? In whose presence live?

"Religion cannot be made joyful simply by looking on the bright side of God. For a one-sided God is not a real God, and it is the real God alone who can satisfy the longing of our soul. God is love, but is he only love? God is love, but is love God? Seek joy alone, then, seek joy at any cost, and you will not find it. How then may it be attained?

"The search for joy in religion seems to have ended in disaster. God is found to be enveloped in impenetrable mystery, and in awful righteousness; man is confined in the prison of the world, trying to make the best of his condition, beautifying the prison with tinsel, yet secretly dissatisfied with his bondage, dissatisfied with a merely relative goodness which is no goodness at all, dissatisfied with the companionship of his sinful fellows, unable to forget his heavenly destiny and his heavenly duty, longing for communion with the Holy One. There seems to be no hope; God is separate from sinners; there is no room for joy, but only a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.

"Yet such a God has at least one advantage over the comforting God of modern preaching - He is alive, He is sovereign, He is not bound by His creation or by His creatures, He can perform wonders. Could He even save us if He would? He has saved us - in that message the gospel consists. It could not have been foretold; still less could the manner of it have been foretold. That Birth, that Life, that Death - why was it done just thus and then and there? It all seems so very local, so very particular, so very unphilosophical, so very unlike what might have been expected. Are not our own methods of salvation, men say, better than that? "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?" Yet what if it were true? "So, the All-Great were the All-Loving too" - God's own Son delivered up for us all, freedom from the world, sought by philosophers of all the ages, offered now freely to every simple soul, things hidden from the wise and prudent revealed unto babes, the long striving over, the impossible accomplished, sin conquered by mysterious grace, communion at length with the holy God, our Father which art in heaven!

"Surely this and this alone is joy. But it is a joy that is akin to fear. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Were we not safer with a God of our own devising - love and only love, a Father and nothing else, one before whom we could stand in our own merit without fear? Let him who will be satisfied with such a God. But we, God help us - sinful as we are, we would see Jehovah. Despairing,
hoping trembling, half-doubting and half-believing, trusting all to Jesus, we venture into the presence of the very God. And in his presence we live."

To quote again from the beginning: "Religion cannot be made joyful simply by looking on the bright side of God. For a one-sided God is not a real God, and it is the real God alone who can satisfy the longing of our soul." If we would encourage one another then, and build each other up, we must do so not only by speaking to each other of God's love and his Fatherhood, or similarly encouraging themes. To help each other find joy we must witness to the fulness of the one true God, in whose presence is found the fulness of joy. So although it seems counter-productive to the non-Christian, to encourage each other we must remind each other of the sinfulness of sin, the holy wrath of God and all his glorious attributes. Joy is not found in the bright side of an imaginary god nor comfort in a god who is just nice and comforting. Go back and read the quotation again.

No comments: