Monday, March 21, 2011
For now I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the Lord; and they shall come and all of them shall set their thrones at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its surrounding walls and against all the cities of Judah. And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.
- Jeremiah 1:15-16 (excerpt)
My college theology professor, David Cain, once relayed a story about Karl Barth referring to his nearly 10,000-page Church Dogmatics as “chaff on the floor of heaven.” One morning, Dr. Cain carried in a single trip all 14 volumes of Barth’s magnum opus to our Introduction to Theology class to relatively dramatic effect. The worn, hardbound tomes landed on the desk with a thud, stacked and teetering three or four feet in the air. Dr. Cain was visibly winded – and I’m pretty sure he had used the elevator.
Whatever Barth’s reputation may have been among his peers, if you believe this story, then you see a scholar who had cultivated a deep humility and spiritual maturity with respect to his own life’s work. On the one hand, it’s impressive, but how easily we forget that it is simply a matter of faithfulness that we do not “worship the work of [our] own hands” (v. 16) – lest we face God’s judgment.
I think we often misunderstand what God’s judgment means, what is going on in the heart of God when we are judged. When we do worship the work of our own hands – and let’s be real about how this is basically at the marrow of our society – it is as though we are standing in our own grave with a shovel in hand, too preoccupied with securing our own worth to see the dark future we have prepared for ourselves.
As judge, God is not simply a greater version of us, jealous that we have chosen to give ourselves the glory instead. God utters judgment in that God utters the truth about who we are, not what God will do to us because ____. And that truth is uttered fundamentally in love, but by virtue of how deeply we have marred our own beauty, the truth must hurt and necessarily comes from God’s lips as a fierce crack of thunder and a call to repentance before the restoring rains fall.
Gracious God, in our brokenness, help us to understand the nature of your anger and disappointment with us and to know Your love that works tirelessly to recover your lost people. It is in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Geoff Ashmun is Director of Public Relations for McCormick Theological Seminary and a writer as much by necessity as by trade.