Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jesus calms the tempest

Last night at church we listened to an R. C. Sproul lecture on the Holiness of God. (Gee, a Presbyterian teaching Baptists—just like in Calvin's Geneva, where We'll teach them Baptists a thing or two! was often heard.)

I had heard this before and read the book from which the lecture drew. But this time Sproul, who is just a fantastic teacher, really struck me. (And he's from Pittsburgh, too!)

Aside: when I first starting blogging, I had an interaction with a Reformed blogger and theology professor (no, not that theology professor) considered by many, with good cause, to be one of the more erudite Christian bloggers. In support of our different positions he quoted a sixteenth century Reformed theologian and I quoted R. C. Sproul. He responded that personally he didn't "think much" of R. C. Sproul. To me that encapsulated what is wrong about academic theology. It's of little use to people in the pews, and it flies in the face of the cherished doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture. If Sproul can teach this old dog some theology with clarity and straightforwardness, I'll take him over a hundred N. T. Wrights whose writing can be as impenetrable as quantum field theory. Just my personal opinion.

Anyway, in the tape we viewed last night, old enough that (a) it was VHF and (b) on the intro where they described Ligonier Ministries there were no web addresses, Sproul described a few biblical passages.

One was this familiar account of Jesus calming the seas, from Mark's gospel:
35 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:25-39)
Now these days, as in past days, (there is nothing new under the sun—not even "new" atheism) there is much speculation among atheists about why people are religious. A common speculation from atheologians is that we have a fear of our mortality, and especially a deep seated fear of the uncontrollable, unpredictable, undiscriminating and potentially lethal natural disaster. Floods, hurricanes, droughts—these things terrify us, so we invent religion to give us a sense of security. As long as we behave, our gods can control these things. Therefore we control them with our behavior, and if they still come it's our fault, not random bad luck.

The passage above fits perfectly. A storm arise from nowhere. Even seasoned professional fishermen are terrified, fearing a capsizing wave that meant a cruel death. Jesus sleeps. They wake the master, and he calms the wind and the seas.

This is good. We are afraid of death by capricious nature, and this man, this God can save us. Their response fits this theory perfectly: they got on their knees in gratitude of the one who saved them, deliriously happy that in Jesus they never again had to fear the elements.

If fits—except for the fact that I lied. That should have been the response if the atheist's theory of why we seek religion is correct. The actual response doesn't fit the theory at all:
40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:40-41)
The disciples were not happy at all. They were terrified. They were more afraid after they had been saved than before. As with other encounters in both the Old Testament and New Testament, they had comes across something that was different. Something that was set apart. Something that was alien. Something that was unnatural, Something, because it is so unlike us, so starkly other, we actually despise it and fear it in our xenophobia. It was God's holiness.

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