how faint a whisper

glimpses of God in a heaven-crammed earth

the [not]simple truth

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I tend to overthink things. That’s probably already evident in this blog, and honestly, is not bad in all areas. But sometimes it is. I can get so caught up in a line of thinking, analyzing, figuring it out, that minute details take on a level of importance and complexity far greater than they were ever meant to bear. The result of this is that I can have a tendency to rush by the true, though seemingly simple, realities where I really need to spend the most time in order to see all other things in proper perspective.

I was caught by a reminder of this the other morning I was reading J.B.Phillips’ introduction to the book of Romans in his modern English translation. Phillips has a smooth way with words that still maintains accuracy, and I’ve enjoyed spending time in his translation and the new insights it has brought to familiar passages. In this introduction; a very brief overview of “the letter to the Christians at Rome” (as Phillips phrases it); he begins explaining how the central theme of the book of Romans is that of salvation, and though this seems instantly familiar to us, it really needs further explanation, and here’s why:

“To Paul, brought up under the rigid Jewish Law, God was pre-eminently the God of Righteousness, i.e. moral perfection. In these days when the majority of people assume God to be a vague easy-going Benevolence it is difficult to appreciate the force of Paul’s problem, or the wonder of its solution.”

He goes on,

“If we are prepared to grant the absolute moral perfection of God, eternally aflame with positive goodness, truth and beauty, we can perhaps understand that any form of sin or evil cannot approach God without instant dissolution. This is as inevitable as, for example, the destruction of certain germs by the light of the sun.

How then, asks Paul, can man who has failed, and moreover, sinned deliberately, ever approach God or hope to share in his timeless existence?

The Law offers the first method. If men will themselves fully obey the law of God they will be free from moral taint and able to approach God in safety. Unhappily, as Paul points out at some length, men have signally failed to keep either the Law revealed to the Jews or the universal moral law of human conscience. If they have broken all the laws or only a few they have all failed and are all guilty. They can, moreover, do nothing to remove their guilt. The Law which ought to be a finger-post to God becomes to them nothing but a warning-notice. This is the crux of Paul’s problem.

The heart of the Gospel is that God himself meets this deadlock by a personal visit to this world. God, as Jesus Christ, became representative man, and as such deliberately accepted to eventual consequence of evil, namely, suffering and death. Any man therefore who sincerely entrusts his life to Christ can now be accepted by God by virtue of God’s personal act of atonement. Salvation, i.e. being safe from the horrible long-term consequences of sin and safe in the presence of God’s utter holiness, now becomes a matter of ‘believing’ and not ‘achieving.'”

It is our faith, a familiar description of familiar truths. Yet there was something in the way he wrote it, perhaps with the force of the intro, that caught and pulled me from quickly moving on. Because that response, that attitude that says, “I get this and now need to move my thoughts into other areas that demand my attention,” is the very proof that I haven’t gotten it yet. That we will never fully get this, but that life is a never-ending journey of understanding just a glimpse more of the real force of this problem of sin, and an instant more of the wonder of the solution. It is simple, which is one of its most astounding truths; it scoffs in the face of an attempt at any standard of achievement, wealth, or wisdom. Yet its simplicity is wrapped in a thousand layers of complexity which are rooted in a right understanding of the character of God. If we don’t understand holiness, we don’t understand sin. And if we don’t understand sin, we don’t understand salvation. If we can’t grasp what it means that God is holy, we don’t really think we have much of a problem, and so we don’t rejoice in, or sometimes even accept, the solution. In the first line of excellent book, The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer writes this,

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Yes, it is. And yet realizing that, I am ready to move on from it and address the “real” problems in my life? There are a lot of real problems in life, and God is present in those, but any confidence of His presence and His character within those moments is built right here. It is built on the foundation that God is holy, I am miserably not, BUT in His love He provided a Savior. I can, and will, spend a lifetime meditating on the wonder of those truths and never completely grasp them.

I don’t know who coined the phrase, though I first heart it from  Milton Vincent in his A Gospel Primer for Christians, and it could not be more true: Preach the Gospel to yourself every day.

There are some things you can’t overthink.

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