Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I really am a wretch...

Mary has been such a blessing to me in more ways that I can speak. Funny that, given that we've only met in person once. Dang, I just love everything about her. Mostly, I love that she is such a gentle and generous Gospel giver and that she supports me in my ... gluttony. But I also like her because she challenges my mind. Oh, how I miss being a thinking person.

Something she said today in passing made me think of something someone else said that I disagree with. Maybe because it seemed that Mary agreed with me. Now, I am not so much interested in being agreed with so much as wanting what I believe in spiritual matters to be true, to be good, right, and salutary. Mary said something about righteous anger that made me think it is good and right at times, whereas this pastor said he was not capable of being righteous in anger and so was not ever.  His comments in this exchange about the matter has bothered me deeply, but I haven't ... even now ... really figured out what I wanted to say about that exchange.

So, I will only say one small bit before getting to what I do want to say. How can you say that I am righteous in Christ and be incapable of righteous anger?  I am not righteous in my self, but in the self of Christ. I am in Him and He is in me. So, how can it be impossible for me to be righteous in anger?

To me, this also belies the prayer God gave us to pray in Psalm139. Some single out particular Psalms as being imprecatory. Now, I am not saying that to do so is wrong, but it does seem, to me, that doing so leaves out all the other imprecatory bits, such as that found in the end of Psalm 139 (verses 19-22), and, to me, doing so leaves this sort of impression that imprecatory psalms are sort of wrong to pray ... not really meant for us to pray.

O that You would slay the wicked, O God;
Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
For they speak against You wickedly,
And Your enemies take Your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with the utmost hatred;
They have become my enemies.

I hate God's enemies. Do you not also? Do you not also stand against those who stand against Christ, against your brother? 

I have said that I find it interesting that when I post bits of the Christian Book of Concord (BOC) that speaks against advarsaries, particularly the papacy, the "likes" fall away and people leave the Facebook Group. The BOC is, after a fashion, an imprecatory text. The whole of it stands with God and against those who deny the pure doctrine, who deny the whole of Christ crucified by cling to and advocating for human wisdom, reason, trust, and/or works in an of themselves and/or intermingled with theology.

Luther certainly had anger for God's enemies. I believe I am not wrong in saying that the combination of his own despair whilst being crushed beneath the errant teaching of the Catholic church and the burden of knowing other souls were also suffering fueled the fierceness with which he defended the Gospel and would not compromise a single mote of it. Being a man of the folk, Luther also oft resorted to plain speak and called someone who was being an ass an ass.

Yet people today, Lutherans and other Christians, do not seem to want to stand against those who do not confess the doctrine rightly and who, therefore, deny the work of our Triune God. This ranges from those who pick and choose which parts of the Bible to believe to even those who pick and choose which parts of the BOC to believe.

However, this is not truly what I set out to write here, so I should stop before diving off that particular cliff. It is more about the anger part of the righteous anger than the righteous part, though not merely anger.

As I have said before, we are creatures of God. He created us, fashioned us from the womb. He created emotions, feelings. They are not something that sprung up out of the mire of sin when our foe felled this world. They existed before the fall because man existed before the fall.

Yes, our foe is wily and uses every part of this world and our lives against us, against God. So, emotions can be hurtful, can lead us down a path of harm to ourselves and others. And they are a particular useful tool of our foe to blind, obfuscate, or otherwise keep us from the truth. However, feelings are not wrong, emotions are not bad.

In my opinion, what is wrong is to deny them in ourselves and in others.

Some time ago, Dr. Beverly Yankhe gave this paper entitled "When Death Seduces the Living:  Responding to Suffering Souls and Psyches," about pastoral care for the anguished and suicidal soul. To me, I find it a valuable read for all Christians. And I believe that the majority of her guidance for pastoral care for the suicidal fits the need of any anguished soul, as well as sheds light on how we can care for our suffering neighbors.  I am working on turning the paper into a booklet, to be approved by her, so that more can have ready and easy access to this information.  Sadly, that work is slow going.

In any case, you could accuse me of liking her words because of how often I have written about the fact that the anguish soul is all throughout the BOC.  You would be right.  I like her words because they resonate with the pure doctrine.  And they resonate with this particular struggling sheep.  In a nutshell, the answer to caring for the anguished soul--be it pastoral care, psychological care, or that of a neighbor--is to give that person the comfort of the Gospel.  How one might go about this varies by vocation.  Yet I believe there remains the same need in all care:  an understanding of emotion, of feeling, including what lies beneath the expression of such.

Read closely, carefully, the fourth suggestion Dr. Yahnke has for pastors:

Fourth, I must underscore my observation that among the finest gifts a pastor, or any other Christian can give to a burdened soul is the gift of listening; listening to one soul at a time; listening selflessly and listening sacrificially. For if one is willing to listen first, one will hear the sin sick soul pour out a litany of sins. 

Those of you familiar with Roman moral theology recognize that the seventh deadly sin is acedia, or melancholy. Bonhoeffer wrote, “It drives him to complete isolation so that he tells himself life is senseless …. Darkness descends between God and the person so that the person loses God. The person who is tested by melancholy is a bouncing ball in the hands of the devil, given to thoughts of suicide.” Bonhoeffer notes, “There is a particular danger that melancholy will not be considered a sin. It’s important to see through this as a special stratagem of the devil, who would like to grasp the tempted person in the midst of his lack of trust in God.” 

If you will listen, the lacerated and despairing heart will tell you that we doubt God’s goodness and power; we doubt God’s justice. We doubt God’s promises. We doubt God’s love. We live in fear and self-loathing. We live as captives to idolatry, misbelief, unbelief and despair and are routinely propelled towards other great shame and vice. Great hope and healing are given if you don’t regard the individual’s story as a sad autobiography, but instead, hear it for what it really is: a confession. Seize the opportunity to respond to a genuine and repentant heart by acknowledging that they are right to speak of such things for they are speaking the truth about sin. Speak a Word of absolution; give Christ’s own life and hope and holiness to the suffering soul before you. In a world seeking transcendence and transformation, the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is unparalleled. In the Word of absolution we are given new life, our baptismal identity is renewed and we are mindful anew of what it is that God has done for us in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Please ... read again this bit:

If you will listen, the lacerated and despairing heart will tell you that we doubt God’s goodness and power; we doubt God’s justice. We doubt God’s promises. We doubt God’s love. We live in fear and self-loathing. We live as captives to idolatry, misbelief, unbelief and despair and are routinely propelled towards other great shame and vice. Great hope and healing are given if you don’t regard the individual’s story as a sad autobiography, but instead, hear it for what it really is: a confession.

I wrote about going to Divine Service last week.  At one point, I wrote that I was a complete and utter wretch.  This was how I felt.  This was, also, my confession.  I wrote that I was struggling with my response to the ushers forgetting to let the pastor know I need to be communed in the pew and so, despite my journey to church, was once again alone in receiving the Lord's Supper.

When my pastor walked by me as he went to the doors to greet my brothers and sisters in Christ after the service, he paused to let me know he would be consecrating more elements for me in a while.  A war was waged within me at that point.

I was hurt. I was even more lonely.  And I was certain this was a sign from on high that I do not belong to the body of Christ here on earth. I struggle too much. I have too little faith.  I am too tired.  Too ill.  Too confused.  Too strident.  Too filled with errant works righteousness teaching.  Too ungodly.  The whispers of my foe filled my mind as disappointment seared my heart.  I wanted to run (okay ... limp) out the door whilst he was busy with the handshakes.

But I stayed.  I stayed because I still hungered for the healing I believe to be in the Lord's Supper.  I stayed, but I was deeply afraid that in staying I was committing a great sin. After all, I was an utter and complete wretch in that moment.

And so, in relating the evening, I included my confession, secretly hoping someone might hear it and tell me that it is okay to struggle with sin and to remind me that in the Lord's Supper, alongside the healing, is forgiveness, too. 

But some of what I received back was a denial of my confession.  The oh-you-are-being-too-hard-on-yourself-again response.  The response that is, at heart, intended or not, criticism of my thoughts and feelings response.  And a rejection and/or denial of my confession.

I receive the comment that I am a redeemed daughter of the king, essentially as opposed to being the sinful wretch.  But I am both.  I am a sinner.  And my sin anguished me. It anguished me so much so that, despite my fear and shame, I spoke to my other pastor about it at the Evening Prayer service two days later.  he is the one who reminded my terrified soul that despite my sin, I received forgiveness that very night, that very moment.

Thus, the helpful response to the anguished sinner making such a confession, masked behind the emotions spoken to you, is not first that you are redeemed (which can easily be received as a critism for failing to remember or state or feel such), but that yes, you are a sinner, but you are a forgiven sinner.  You are daily and richly forgiven of all your sins.  And then go on to all the fulness of what that means.

And, as I said, it is also helpful in a moment such as mind to gently remind the anguished person that she had, in fact, just received forgiveness anew in the very body and blood of Christ by not pointing out that she had forgotten such, but rather by rejoicing in that forgiveness with her as a way to reminder her what her foe tried so valently to hide from her.  She was/is/will be again forgiven. 

In writing this, I did not set out to condemn the specific response of rejection I received, but to point out the presence of the confession and the longing that lies behind such an admission.  In writing this, I hope that you who are exposed to my lacerated heart (as I am sure will spill forth again) might hear my confession and speak to me the Word of Absolution. In writing this, I hope that you, who have other anguished souls about you, might hear their confessions and respond to them with the comfort of Gospel.

The comfort of the active, powerful, performative, creative Living Word.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

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