The wise men worship Jesus before he has done anything or said anything that would make him worthy of worship. Unless he was God. Then such worship would make sense. Worship antecedent to his salvific work demands that Jesus in his being be intrinsically worthy of worship.
Though a heavy distinction between who God is and what he has done cannot be maintained, for his character compels his specific actions, we fundamentally worship God because he is inherently worthy of being worshipped.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they was the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Matthew 2:10-11a
Does theology ever make you miserable? Torn between the poles of opposing positions where biblical and historical evidence seems to lie on both sides. Should I believe that the miraculous gifts have ceased, dying out as the apostle John yielded up his last faithful breaths? Or should I believe that those gifts have continued and the ghost-town nature of modern faith in such has stymied the miraculous? Should I believe that the spikes and the nails and the full cup of the Father’s wrath was poured out upon the Son for the elect only? Or did Christ offer himself as a sacrifice for the entire expanse of the human race, but applied only to those who turn in humble belief in their own ability to save themselves? And what do we make of the wonderful and labyrinthine words of the Apocalypse of John, scene upon scene that bedazzles and befuddles? Is Jesus coming back to rule for a thousand years? Or is the millennial kingdom marching forward towards completion as you read this?
These are hard questions, questions that I myself often struggle to answer. The texts and philosophies and hermeneutical models stack up in convincing piles, only to be countered by the next view in rational and compelling ways. In an environment where theology is valued, where careful analysis of the text is prized, it is easy to begin the ever-so-subtle drift of heart from worshiping Christ for who he is to worshiping Christ for the theological system his death and resurrection created. If we’re miserable when we wrestle through theological questions, it’s because we’re worshipping systems instead of a Savior.
Christ died to save us from our theology. And the misery we often feel as we pressure ourselves to “get it right” is a product of us finding our identity in theological perfectionism rather than the perfection of a Person who is our intercessor. I believe in believer’s baptism. I could be wrong. I believe that miraculous gifts have ceased. I could be wrong. I believe that believers will go through the tribulation, after which the millennial kingdom will begin. I’m praying that I’m wrong. But my identity before the men and before the Lord is none of these things. My identity is Jesus Christ crucified. Not my theological system.
Who do we run to when the well is dry and the heavens are as brass? The Valley of Vision, or Psalm 42 and Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones?
When the money flow ebbs and the pressure mounts what path do we trod? Psalm 23 or the Gospel According to Dave Ramsey?
When someone dares reproach our treasured doctrine of election who is our chief advocate? John Piper or Ephesians 1?
Too often we trade the gasoline for exhaust and then grow angry when the car of our delight in God won’t start. All of these men have wise words, words that comfort and teach and correct. But all their words are exhaust, by-products of a heart consumed with the God revealed in Scripture. Why are we content to trade the white-hot flame of a heart fed by Scripture for the wheezing engine trying to run off the passion and joy of another man? Enough of the pre-processed. Give us the raw meat of the Word of God, and let us prove our doctrine by our Scriptures.
If we ignore our Bibles for the sake of words about the Bible, we will grow miserable. The heart will be consumed by what its time is spent imbibing. A boat always takes on the water it’s floating in. I pray for you and I pray for myself that as our time is spent reading wonderful things about the Bible – history, languages, nuances, hermeneutics – they wouldn’t become our pagan gods. No matter how pure my theology is, it will never reconcile us to God. Only one man was perfect. And our identity rests in him and him alone.
I’m in seminary; help me. The ability to determine that a verb is a Pi”el Active Participle in no way guarantees that I am able to parse my own discouragements. That I’ve read 2,500 pages of Jonathan Edwards in 3 months doesn’t mean that I’m actively, intentionally, and currently delighting in the God who is much more than the sum total of all my theology. The fact that I have a pair of letters after my name that designate me the leader of a dorm full of 118 good men doesn’t mean that I don’t fight many of the same battles they do daily.
Being in seminary in no way decreases my need to be reminded of the gospel daily. There is no pedestal that elevates any man above the unsheathed claws of the roaring lion, the seductive calls of the alluring world, or the foul beast of his own resurgent former nature. The second a pedestal is considered to be a shield is the second a pedestal proves itself to be rather opposite in function.
As I look at myself and my own hesitations to extend the kindness of counsel, I realize that the greatest fear is being perceived as patronizing. I don’t want to be like the driver’s ed teacher who insistently told me that maintaining a four second gap between myself and the car ahead is critical to my survival as a driver and entirely possible reality. I don’t want to be advocating something that we all know and believe, but obviously doesn’t have any power in your life because you’re in seminary and therefore know the gospel and gospel implications.
If we believed the gospel perfectly, we wouldn’t ever be miserable. We wouldn’t get stuck in ruts where we grow discouraged, grow imbalanced in our theology, grow harsh or timid or selfish or insensitive or gluttonous or myopic or proud or lustful or gossipy or demanding. We wouldn’t spiral from the lush gardens of self-sacrificial servanthood to the desert of entitlement where any sense of joy has evaporated into the ever-thirsty air. The fact that we don’t live as Jesus shows our blindness, our inability to take information and process it to lifestyle perfection, our desperate need for other pairs of eyes to scout our lives and the humility to actively invite and embrace correction.
So I am in seminary; please help me. Help me remember the gospel, help me remember the faith given once for all the saints, help me remember that the truest thing about me is Christ standing in heaven as an intercessor whose intercession has absorbed all wrath and guaranteed all favor. Help me remember that the Lord is my shepherd, that I shall not want, that his rod and staff correct and comfort. Help me remember that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Remind me that young men are to set example in faith, hope, purity, and love, and that God will be faithful to complete what he has begun.
My sanctification is a community project. So is yours. God give us boldness and humility.
What good are hands to hold
If they have never gone and sold
Themselves for work amongst the fields?
What good are eyes to gaze into
If they habitually close from view
The sight of all the least of these?
What good are lips to kiss
If they know only cowardice
When kings and kingdoms would collide?
It often takes a long time for our emotions to catch up with our theology. When catastrophe strikes, we know the right answers but rarely feel the comfort we know they should produce. Such is the role of the subservient being called to place faith in the merciful and loving Father. Even Jesus knew the gulf that can exist between what we know we ought to feel and how we truly respond to past, present or future calamity.
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. (Matthew 26:29)
Obedience and faith are beautiful qualities when they face the raging storm.