Guilt and shame

fear-299679_640

There is guilt, the inner torment that comes from doing what is wrong.  And there is shame, the torment that comes from other people knowing that we have done something wrong.  Guilt is private; shame is social.  Guilt has to do with how we see ourselves; shame has to do with how others see us.

We might do something we know is wrong, but feel only mildly guilty about it.  But if other people found out, our shame–consisting of embarrassment and a ruined reputation–would be devastating.

Lifeway did a study of what feeling people want to avoid the most:  guilt, shame, or fear.  38% of Americans said shame.  The breakdown according to age, education, and religion–given after the jump–is interesting.  (“Nones,” for example, those with no religion, are especially plagued with guilt.  Religious people are more worried about shame.)

The problem of shame in our culture today shouldn’t surprise us.  Moral relativism might assuage guilt, but it doesn’t help us with shame.  On social media, shaming other people has become a national past time, leading some targets to misery and sometimes suicide.  Social norms, especially of the politically correct variety, are enforced by shaming the violators.

The fear of shame might be considered shallow.  “You worry about your reputation more than the wrongness of your behavior.”

But the Bible says a lot about shame.  It seems to be an aspect of God’s judgment–that our sins will be disclosed, so that we will be “put to shame.”  Yet  Jesus endured shame on our behalf.  The Cross, reserved for the lowest offenders, involving being nailed naked to a tree and lifted up for all the world to see, was considered an especially shameful way to die.  And yet,  “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

As a result, the Cross of Jesus Christ gives us forgiveness for both our guilt and our shame:  “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).

[Read more…]

“Now He Is Very Near”

640px-Jelenia_G._Church_ascending

Happy Ascension Day!

Some people think that Christ’s ascension into Heaven means that He is no longer with us.  Not so.  His ascension back into the Godhead means that now He can be with us, more so now than when He was in the flesh two millennia ago.

Because of His ascension, He can promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”  (Matthew 28:20).  The Ascended Lord is with us in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, where two or three are gathered in His Name, in the hearts of those who believe in Him, and in His Church.

Far from being gone, Christ now “fills all things”:

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:10)

All things!

After the jump, read a profound passage from a sermon by Martin Luther on Ascension Day. [Read more…]

The day that God suffered and died

Crucifixion_GrunewaldA powerful Good Friday devotion would be to read Article VIII of the Formula of Concord: “The Person of Christ.”  It will help you to appreciate even more the magnitude of what happened on the Cross.

Luther’s dispute with Zwingli went beyond their disagreement over Holy Communion and whether “this is my body” is a fact or a figure of speech.  They had different understandings of Christ.

This question arose:  Can we say that on the Cross “God suffered” or “God died”?  No, said Zwingli.  God is “impassible.”  He cannot suffer or die.  Christ has both a divine and a human nature.  So on the Cross only His human nature suffered.  Zwingli dismissed scriptural language to the contrary as, again, a figure of speech.

Luther said that while it is true that God, in Himself, does not suffer or die, in Christ something else is going on.  In taking on human nature, God the Son could experience what human beings experience.  By virtue of the incarnation, the unity of the Trinity, the communication of the attributes, and the personal union of Christ’s two natures, we can say that God suffered and died.

Later, Chemnitz would explain it using this analogy (and it is only an imperfect analogy, since the Son of God was not simply a deity in a human body, but rather took on a human soul as well):  A human being has a spiritual and a physical nature.  If you cut your finger, it isn’t just your body that suffers.  You suffer because your two natures come together in your person.

After the jump, read how this is treated in one of the key confessional documents of Lutheran theology.  I know I trot this out every few years around this time, but it bears repeating.

For one thing, to believe that God suffered and God died helps us to understand the atonement more deeply.  It isn’t God punishing his kid for what other people did, as mockers and some liberals are saying today.  In the atonement, the Second Person of the Trinity sacrificed Himself for sinful human beings.  And in doing so, He took into Himself, by His omnipotence, the world’s evil and the world’s suffering, our “iniquities” and “transgressions” and our “griefs” and “sorrows” (Isaiah 53, a major passage of Scripture to read for today).  And this has a bearing on the problem of evil and the problem of pain, since we know that, far from looking down on the evils and sufferings of the world and doing nothing, God took them into Himself in His redemption of the world.

Illustration:  The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.  Originally at the Hospital of St. Anthony, where plague victims could contemplate Christ, depicted as bearing their disease.

[Read more…]

Light, darkness, & the Cross

god-1979750_640S. J. Masson, a new Patheos blogger at Hawkeye, has written a wide-ranging, thought-provoking post that you should read for Good Friday.  He begins by pointing out an allusion to the Cross made by J. R. R. Tolkien in a footnote to Lord of the Rings.  He then reflects on the symbolism of this time of year, just after the equinox, when light begins to prevail over darkness.  And he then explores the meaning of the darkness that came over the land when Christ was on the Cross.

I have some excerpts after the jump, but you need to read the whole post.

Photo from Pixabay, CC0, Public Domain [Read more…]

Praying the Catechism

Many Christians have problems praying.  Our minds wander; we run through our wants and needs; we forget what to pray for; and we soon turn to something else.

Christians in the past, though, often prayed “with” a text that would direct, inspire, and be a catalyst for their prayers.  The Lord’s Prayer was not just repeated verbatim, though that was part of it.  Each petition of the prayer sparked personal prayer–how can I do God’s will?  What “daily bread” do I need?  What temptations do I need to be delivered from?

Scriptures such as the Ten Commandments would also be prayed.  Luther suggested finding in each commandment, an instruction (“I must honor my father and my mother”), a thanksgiving (“Thank you, God, for giving me my parents”), a confession (“I have been neglecting my mother”), and a petition (“Lord, help my parents with their health and money problems. . . .”).

Luther also advocated praying the Creed, and in doing so, addressing the Triune God and receiving His promises of grace.

The Catechism itself is not just an educational handbook for the instruction of children.  Rather, it is an inexhaustible source book for prayer, meditation, and the richest, deepest devotions.

John Pless unpacks all of this in his book Praying the Catechism. [Read more…]

Holy Sepulchre needs more repair or it might collapse

Domes_of_the_Church_of_the_Holy_SepulchreRestoration work on the shrine built around the likely spot of Christ’s tomb has been completed.  (See this and this and this.)  But researchers have found that the shrine and the surrounding complex have been built on unstable ground.  Without more work, there could someday be a “catastrophic” collapse.

The “edicule,” the small building around the tomb that has been restored, preserves the remnants of a cave.  It was once part of a quarry that had been turned into grave sites for wealthy Jews.  (Note the confirmation of what the Bible says about Joseph of Arimathea, who offered the grave that he owned for the body of Jesus.)  A number of those other grave sites have also been discovered on the property.  The quarry is also thought to have been the site of “the Place of the Skull,” the Golgotha where criminals were executed.  This is why the Church of the Holy Sepulchre complex also includes the reported site of the crucifixion.

The site over the ancient quarry is honeycombed with other caves and tunnels from the mining.  The current structure is also built on top of tons of rubble, not only from the quarry but from layers of  building and rebuilding over the centuries.  Plus, the graves were dug into a slope.  Drainage problems and damage from so many visitors are compounding the problem.

Researchers are proposing a six million euro project to shore up the buildings and to stabilize the foundations.  The construction work would be accompanied with more archaeological excavation.
[Read more…]