Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Doubtful Certainty

Well, the swinging doors have slapped her from behind. Any remotest thought of sweet sorrow was lost in her own parting shot: “Paul Tillich earlier offered a similar caveat when he wrote that the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty.”

That sure sends the tip of Thomas’s finger right into in the face of Hebrews 11:1, rather into the side of Christ where it belongs!  

     Three-quarters through my first year of teaching I had a Math lesson on probability for the Second Graders. That year I was teaching only First and Second Grade. If the goal of catechesis were only to reveal the Law, then it would leave us ever in constant starvation, that is, doubt. Yet that is not what God does with His children. God afflicts His children with starvation in order to feed them on the Bread of Life. How is this so? The Good News of Christ is the Word by which we receive the Bread of Life, that is, forgiveness of sins and salvation. Where the Gospel reigns, there is certainty. The catechized children at Good Shepherd can teach a lesson in certainty – and do.

     The objective for the Math lesson one day was to learn the distinctions between likely, impossible, and certain. The definitions given for likely and impossible were acceptable, but I quickly discarded the one for certain. No, I am not certain the sun will rise tomorrow. In fact, I still pray, “Come, Lord Jesus... quickly!

     After discussing what likely and impossible meant (it is likely to rain; it is impossible for dogs to drive), I asked the class about certain. “What does certain mean? Of what are you most sure? What can you count on happening so that you have no doubts whatsoever? Of what are you certain?”

     The children thought.

     They thought for a long time.

     Still longer.

     The silence in my classroom was not only rare, it was palpable.

     Minutes went by...

     It was becoming uncomfortable.


     Then... from one corner of the room a voice broke out...

     “...when he breaks and hinders every...,” by now the rest joined in, “...evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God's name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.”

     With that they shouted an ad lib: “THIS IS MOST CERTAINLY TRUE, AMEN!”

     How is it that the students should think of the Third Petition so that they would answer with that when I asked about certainty? The Third Petition doesn’t even mention certainty. They had to supply a cognate of the word, certainly.

     These children have learned by hard example in their own daily living that they cannot keep God’s Commandments. They have written pages of disciplinary sentences, repeated countless apologies proving that fact. Whenever they err they are asked, “What Commandment is that?” When they fail grievously, they find themselves confessing their sin to Pr. Sawyer in order to hear Holy Absolution as from Christ Himself. They vow to do better, only to fail the test. Still, over and over, they begin and end each day with “into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.” They have been taught that Jesus prayed a similar prayer every day, and dying from the cross. They know that to not be able to keep the First Commandment, to not “fear, love and trust in God above all things,” means that they hate God. That’s what sin is, the acts of people who hate God. But, they will tell you, Jesus didn’t come for anyone but sinners. They have plenty of sins, so He came for them. The students are certain of two things. One: They are sinners, and cannot free themselves from that condition. Two: The promises of the Third Petition are sure, and God will not free Himself from the conditions He imposed upon Himself when He made them. Still, that doesn’t answer how the children knew the Third Petition deals with certainty when it doesn’t even mention it, does it?
     It is this: The Lord’s Prayer is Christ’s words, put into our mouths to speak. What God gives us to speak are His words, not our own. The children know that what Christ says is so, is so. Therefore, what we are given to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer is not a request in the form of “if it pleases God then He will give these things;” rather, the Lord’s Prayer is given to us to repeat to God what He most certainly has given us in Christ. Certainty begins in the First Commandment, with what it means to have a God, and continues the First Article when we confess that

He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

The Catechism informs us repeatedly of that which is most certain and true: God’s Fatherhood to us because of Christ.

     God’s Son taught us to pray to His Father, “Our Father, which is to say, “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children.” The meaning of each petition of the prayer our Lord put into our mouths to pray begins

God's name is certainly holy in itself...
The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer...
The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer...
God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people...
We pray that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them...
God tempts no one.
We pray that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil...

     The answer the students gave was the Third Article of the Creed put into in action. The Holy Spirit had worked through the means of the word to create and sustain faith in Christ in them. It was only a matter of time before the words of the faith that had informed the hearts, minds, and souls of faith, opened lips to declare what is most certain and true: It is God who directs, controls, and effects what He wills with regard to His kingdom. We have no part in the action. God desires His kingdom to come; therefore it will come of a certainty. What God Himself puts into our mouths to pray happens, for His word is certain. What He wills to be done is accomplished. It’s a done deal. His word has been upon it from before He said, “Let there be light,” and it is sealed as accomplished since He said, “It is finished.”  God’s kingdom – His will – is delivered to us through the means He has provided as our physical needs are met, but also more importantly when His word is preached, prayed and meditated upon, and His Sacraments of Baptism, the Supper and Absolution are administered to His children. Through these God feeds His starving children bread for their bodies, and the Bread of Life for their souls. (From the author’s unpublished essay, Let the Children Come to Me)      

     But this isn’t the sort of certainty the aficionados of women’s ordination will be content with. Their certainty comes by what they say and do, not what has been received from God. Thus, for them, certainty that the Gospel is actually alive- that Christ is active among His people- comes when they see women ordained, not where Christ Himself says He will be.  

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