degree of difficulty

Here is my latest entry for Our Daily Journey, the really cool and longer version of Our Daily Bread for twenty and thirtysomethings.  I tried to build a devotional around a few thoughts from Karl Barth, just to see if it could be done.  Let me know (gently) what you think.

keeping up appearances

read > Philippians 2:5-11…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Shen Jie was living high.  She resided in a private villa, danced her weekends away in foreign hotels, and had her own staff to clean her home and chauffeur her between parties in Beijing.  But she lost it all when new comrades rose to power and threw her father out of his government office.  Shen Jie did not go easily.  When friends offered to pay her rent or drive her places, she would say “Yes, I will allow you to purchase that for me” or “I grant you permission to do me this favor.”

Her feeble attempts to retain a charade of privilege annoyed her friends.  They would have preferred a simple, “Thank you, I don’t know what I would do without you.”  It’s easy to see that Shen Jie needed a good helping of humble gratitude, but don’t we act similarly toward God when we say that we permit Jesus to be Lord or we accept him into our hearts?

We enter this world needy and rebellious—under the curse of sin and death and bound for hell.  When we learn that Jesus gave his life to save us, we sometimes grudgingly announce that we will grant him this privilege.

Karl Barth noticed this tendency and explained that our professed “openness” toward God may actually be a spiritual way of remaining closed.  We concede that we need God’s help, but by granting permission for God to save us we try to retain the power in our relationship.  We refuse to admit that we are “this needy man,” but even in our poverty we strive to play “the rich man closed against God.”

Like Shen Jie, we are dying to be in control.  That is fitting, because our attempt to keep the upper hand is killing us.  Salvation comes when we confess that Jesus is Lord, with or without our permission.

more > Isaiah 40:18-26; Matthew 28:18-20; Revelation 11:15

next > Can you think of other spiritual ways—such as prayer, offerings, and obedience—where we might be tempted to assert our authority over God?  Do we ever use these good things to try to manipulate him into doing what we want?

Source:  Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 (Edinburgh:  T & T Clark, 1957), 130-31.


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  1. Mike, Well done. Excellent message, excellent theology (even if you did quote from the arch-heretic Barth). j/k. :o)

  2. Prodigal Daughter October 20, 2009 — 2:46 pm

    What a great illustration of spiritual pride. I’ve found it sometimes difficult communicating this concept with those who haven’t grown up in Reformed traditions. They get hung up on the “free will” thing.

    As far as ways we try to assert authority over God, fasting can be used to “put out the fleece”. Not that it’s wrong to ask for God’s direction, but sometimes I wonder if we don’t do it to try and “force God’s hand” one way or another.

  3. This was excellent! I have heard it said many times about “letting Jesus into your heart” but as a kid I never thought about it quite like this.

  4. “fasting can be used to “put out the fleece”.”

    Excellent application of this! That’s not only true, but also very convicting.

    If we think that grace started with something we did, we’re always going to expect God to jump like a dog if only we have the right treats. Needless to say, that’s one jacked view of God that leads to a jacked view of the self.

    That’s one of the reasons I love reading Barth. One second he’s chasing down minutiae with the Scholastics and the next second he’s preaching.

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