True Saving Faith Is ‘Blasphemous’
The little girl finds out that her dad is dying of cancer having months to live. A perfectly happy, strong family loses a mother to a car accident. Do we not have enough fatherless and motherless homes in this world?! A father leaves his family out of the blue, leaving the children wondering why. Does he still love them? What did they or their mother do wrong? A mother leaves her infant child in his baby chair at grandmas and runs off with another man; he does not even know that he has been abandoned yet. Is there not enough pain in the world without more of this?! An entire home is lost to a fire, a tornado, a flood, or hurricane. Was it not enough that they couldn’t make the bills before?! A son watches his paragon of a mother die slowly of the insidious Parkinson’s disease, an entire family watches a once strong man waste away in his last years from Alzheimer’s, a child will not grow up and have the American dream or even a minimal “same life as most” because of a congenital disease or disability. The evils in life are so prevalent that one fears to dare to even hope or smile, lest he be caught off guard. Where is God in all this? Does He care at all?
In my own circle of family and friends, I’ve heard this anger and despair expressed toward God over the years in things that have happened; job losses, death, disasters, lost homes, despair, loneliness, emptiness, once vibrant family homes now less than haunted houses. The suffering in this life, if we are honest, is limitless and being a baptized Christian does not protect us from suffering and pain. In reality, life is more like Job than Pentecost.
One of the biggest challenges to the Christian faith—whether for those within it, for those that have walked away, or those who are not part of it—is sorting through our question of “Where is God in the trials of our lives and the ensuing anger and despair we feel but pretend isn’t there?” This is not so much concerning God’s location so that I can point to Him and say, “Look He is real and there He is”, but rather His activity or apparent inactivity when I need Him! We all experience this and if we are being honest, it is more the rule than the exception.
I’ve heard it expressed a thousand different ways depending on the person’s struggle at the time, “Where is God in all of this?”, “Why me?”, “What did I do to deserve this?”, “How could a good God let this happen?”, and simply “Where are you, God?”. Even Jesus at times appears to be absentee. The correct reply is “He is here in Word and sacrament for you”, but we would be foolish to think that removes the pain or emptiness that follows, the pointlessness of so many experiences in life, and the egregious suffering of man everywhere. This is real life—as Luther daringly said, “Have you ever dared to be angry at God?”
Can one be angry at God like that and speak that way to Him? Ought not we damnable sinners humbly live out our lives thinking to ourselves, “God is sovereign and holy and you are not, so you best just give thanks that it is not worse”? Is that faith? Is that really the kind of faith God wants from us? No, it is not.
Rather, faith is when pain and suffering brings you to cry out in that very anger or despair “Why?!”, “Where are You?”, “You really exist, don’t You?”. It is an honest prayer even if not formal and well crafted. In the suffering and emptiness of life, God is stirring faith into us to at last “call upon Him in every trial and tribulation, and expect all good from Him.” (Martin Luther, Large Catechism, 10 Commandments, 1st Article)
To fine religious society, such seemingly repugnant bravado seems blasphemous and the very antithesis of ‘faith’, “Can one, a sinner, dare address God in such a way?” Yet this is the very heartbeat of faith. Luther points out in his explanation of the first commandment what it means to have God as your God—to expect all good from Him and turn to Him in every trial and trouble. This kind of faith is the prayer that at last goes to the right address and calls upon THE God as God, and calls upon Christ as Christ, the Redeemer as Redeemer. This kind of cry and prayer to God at last turns to Him in true time of trial and need, EXPECTING all good from Him. To be angry and upset with God for not being God is the creature acting like a creature at last, again, and calling upon God to BE God to and for Him. This is precisely what God would have of His creatures—to call upon Him in every trial and expect good from Him—especially regarding our final redemption and salvation. This despairing and angry crying out is real faith and ‘the Spirit’s utterances too deep for words’ (Rom 8:26-27) calling on Him to BE God to us!
“And I will say one thing more in my free and bold way. There are none nearer to God in this life than these haters and blasphemers of him, nor any sons more pleasing to him and beloved by him…here it is that those ‘groanings that cannot be uttered’ are at work and prevail.” (Martin Luther’s Commentary, Isaiah 42:3)
This kind of faith looks exceedingly blasphemous to false religion’s faith and humility toward God. However, it is the kind of faith expressed everywhere in Scripture and intensely in the Psalms, “I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.” (Ps 69:2–3). “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps 10:1). What is even more revealing about these agonizing cries in the Psalms is that the Psalms are ultimately Jesus’ cries pointing forward to the cross. They are the height of His agony of His suffering throughout His earthly ministry and on the cross—the very Son of God Himself is the one crying out such ‘blasphemy’ in the Psalms, “’My God, My God why have You forsaken Me’—Why are you so far from saving Me, so far from the words of My groaning?” (Ps 22:1).
There is a deep connection to that forlorn cry of Christ as a real suffering God and man on the cross crying “My God, my God…” This is a faith-filled ‘blasphemy’ that cries out to the Creator and Redeemer aright. It is far from the fake ‘sovereign god’ of serious religiosity and its cousin the Disneyland Jesus of American Religion. This is the creature addressing His Creator/Redeemer in which ‘even the dogs come to God for scraps and demand the Creator BE their Creator and BE their redeemer—not absent and aloof!’ If a man is responsible when he takes a wife and has kids, becoming a husband and father, so much more is our Creator and Redeemer that has created creatures—even though we got ourselves into and are solely to blame for our fallen misery! What earthly father would not rescue and sacrifice everything for their child? How much more God the Father? He did this so much more that Christ—His very Son, His Crown Jewel—went to die on a cross… that is how much.
Faith is not the pious fake humility and false self-reliant faith that seems religiously right to evade such a cry. In such despairing and angry cries of Faith, faith cries what the first commandment states, “I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods before Me”. I.e. real faith is the ‘blasphemy’ of the sinner crying aright, demanding that God his Creator and Redeemer save him from his own self-made sinful status full of trials and suffering—demanding God BE God! Then on the Lord’s day He gives His answer, “Take and eat My sacrificed body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins…a foretaste of the feast now going on which you will fully join soon.”
“When I baptized you I gave you eternal life in spite of today’s suffering and I want you to realize you live by My Word alone. You HAVE eternal life and soon I will come to take you to be with Me (John 14), wipe away every tear (Rev 21:4), and I WILL make all things new (Isaiah 43:19, 65:17; Rev 21:5).”
Such a ‘blasphemous’ anger and despair calling out is true and real faith calling upon the name of God as truly his God, in time of every trial and EXPECTING (i.e. hoping for) all good things from Him! (Martin Luther, Large Catechism on the First Commandment) Only this faith survives the trials.