Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
I Peter 3:15-22
A little girl approached a librarian and asked for a book on penguins. The book was found (a big one) and she went eagerly home with it. The next morning she was waiting to return the book when the library opened. “I wanted to learn something about penguins,” she said sadly, “but not this much.”
If we substitute “theology” for “penguins,” we discover a common dilemma of many people who eagerly want to know God but are given, through systems of theology, more than they can (or are at least willing to) digest. Of course, the opposite is also true. You may have heard the joke about Adam and Eve, after God walked through the garden. Eve asked Adam what He looked like. By the time Adam finished, she shared his belief that God was a huge toenail.
Another analogy is the limerick about the centipede who was happy in her stride and in the manipulation of her many legs until she started reflecting about which leg came after which.
This reduced her mind to such a pitch, She lay distracted in the ditch Considering how to run.
Frustration comes because neither a huge nor a tiny amount of abstract knowledge about God will enable us to know Him. God is personal and relational — to know Him is to love Him. We must move from “knowledge about” to “acquaintance with.”
At marriage ceremonies, I have tried to help young couples see that love is neither what they think they know about their partner, nor how they feel about their partner. During courtship, we naturally put our best foot forward. Two years or ten years later, when the “other foot” finally comes, our partner often feels betrayed, deceived, victimized and disillusioned. Similarly, as we get to know each other and demonstrate our care for each other, every tender thought, word and touch is filled with exhilarating joy, but love is not a warm and gooey feeling for someone.
All across the world, thousands of hearts palpitate and lungs sigh at the very mention of names of movie, television and sports stars. But most of these hearts and lungs have never even met their “loves,” don’t know them or relate to them and thus couldn’t possibly love them. One of the healthiest revelations in marriage comes on the day we realize that we can be fiercely angry at our partners and still love them. Love is neither the goo nor the anger.
The First Scripture Lesson for Sunday contains a short theological treatise, delivered by Paul to the intellectual Greeks in Athens. Paul observed, among all the idols on display in that city, an altar “To An Unknown God.” He used that inscription to introduce the one and only true God to his hearers. His speech was clever, eloquent, short, to the point and yet profound. “What you worship as unknown,” Paul told them, “this I proclaim to you.”
He informed them that God can be known as the Creator of the universe (“Who made the world and everything in it”) and the power controlling and operating it (“Lord of heaven and earth”). He proclaimed that God is alive and greater than human beings (“does not live in shrines built by man”). God is not distant, but right in the middle of things (“He is not far from any one of us, for ‘In Him we live and move and have our being'”). Paul added that God was also not emotionally distant (“We too are His children”). But when Paul brought this abstract God into the reality of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, some of his hearers scoffed at him and the rest politely said that it was a nice speech and they’d like to hear him speak again some other time.
Perhaps it was this experience that later led Paul to say, “I am determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” He also wrote, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing the cleverness of the clever … I proclaim Christ, yes Christ crucified … a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks.”
Some years ago I was a guest preacher for a special service. Afterward, the local pastor and I greeted the people. He shook hands on one side of the aisle and I on the other. While this continued, a child suddenly started screaming at the top of his lungs, just outside the door. When the line ended, the child’s father carried him up to me with the embarrassed explanation: “He didn’t get to shake hands with the ‘other Jesus.'” We were all greatly amused, but the child’s comment was closer to a theological truth than many people ever come. The mysterious words of Jesus are: “He that hears you hears me.”
Someone recently said to me, “You remind me of your father.” It made me feel very good. As children of God, it is always good when we remind others of our Father. Sometimes God acts through us when we are totally unaware of it or may only become aware of it later. In his book, In Search of God, Conrad Simonson tells the following story:
“It was August. We were on vacation with my parents at our family cabin on a remote lake in northern Minnesota. The morning was glorious. The lake was calm. The sky was a pale blue with enormous billowy clouds: an idyllic day. In the cabin, however, a storm was gathering. My sister had just returned from a visit to my older brother, a parish pastor in a small town in Montana. As she related details of her visit, my father began to think about a college loan my brother had never repaid him.
“Largely out of a sense of annoyance at having a vacation morning disturbed, I sat down and wrote a long letter to my brother. I described a beautiful day ruined. I spoke of our father, offended because his son refused to pay anything on the loan or even to respond when Father had mentioned the matter in several letters. I spoke of our mother’s hope that they could visit them in the fall and of my father’s angry response: ‘Not until he does something about that loan.’
“I never did receive a response to that letter. But my father received a five-page letter in which my older brother shared all of the details of his financial situation: his salary, his family costs, his debts, and a pointed statement indicating why on his salary he could not pay off the loan at the present time.
“That was all father needed. In the fall my parents spent a full week of vacation with my older brother and his family. I have been told that before the week was over, my father canceled the loan. My parents returned full of praise for the ‘Big Sky Country.’
“In early March the following spring, I had an early morning telephone call from my father telling of a bad traffic accident. My mother was hospitalized with severe internal injuries. She died a day later, and I made a telephone call to my brother in Montana. He and his family left immediately and were with us a day later to comfort my father.
“It was when I saw my father and my brother comforting each other that I thought again about my letter. And the thought went through my head: if God has ever acted in my life, it was then.”
On Mother’s Day, we hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
Some years ago, a little girl was injured — just a small “boo-boo” — at a vacation Bible school. After she had calmed down a little I asked her if she was okay. She said, “No, Mommy has to kiss it.” How wonderful it is not to be orphans — especially from the Giver of life and all good things.
Jesus’ words take on power and meaning beyond the imagination when we see how deep and undeniable is His love. Just as the little girl would not be prevented from her mom in her suffering, so Jesus will not be prevented from coming to us, even if it means His suffering. No shame, no humiliation, no brutality, no hatred, no torture — not even death can prevent Him. How deep and unstoppable is God’s love for all His precious sons and daughters. Jesus tells us to love each other in the same way. Our love for others is incomplete if we do not bring them to know their Father. It’s our mission.