God – Get Off My Back!
“What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?” 16*Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:15-16 GNT
But this occurs only when God awakens us and keeps us in his fear, so that we may always be concerned and cry: “Lord, increase our faith.” Our hearts should always be in a condition as if we had only begun to believe to-day, and always be so disposed toward the gospel as if we had never before heard it. We should make a fresh beginning each day. Our faith must constantly grow and become stronger.
The naked, hidden God needs no theological proof, apology, or defense. The problem, Luther saw clearly, was neither how to find God nor even to prove God’s existence, but how to get God off our backs. Yet only God could do that.
Here is the central reason for his inescapable feeling of guilt. He condemns himself to frustration. He cannot enjoy the gift of God unless he snatches it away when God is not looking. This is necessary, for Prometheus demands that the fire be his by right of conquest. Otherwise he will not believe it is really his own. And that is the paradox that St. Paul saw so clearly: salvation belongs to the order of love, of freedom and of giving. It is not ours if it is conquered, only if it is freely received, as it is freely given.
Rarely have I found a true atheist, especially among those of any intellectual capability.
I have found people who know God exists, and do not like Him! Also, I have found many who don’t like His people, because we can be arrogant, self-centered, holier than thou, who target this sin or that one–making that sin the cause of a new crusade.
Forde’s insight of Luther is often true of them, as they feel the tension bought about by a God who is only focused on correcting their errors, what we refer to as sin. This was Luther’s battle, and the freedom he eventually found was transformative. Forde simply says to Luther’s cry to get God off his back, that only God could do that. Only God can deal with the feeling God is on your back, bugging you to do what is right, and not do what is wrong.
Merton’s Prometheus has a similar struggle. He tries to steal fire, that is his purity, his righteousness. But you can’t steal what which is a gift! We see that in society today as well, and even in some theological systems, where we have to attain a level of holiness, or perfection, before God would bend down to us. I think that is the real reason for those theologies which promise health and wealth – the illusion of being blessed by God . It has more to deal with our opinion of ourselves than God’s opinion of us. It is to ogain the illusion of success, or at least striving for it.
The first quote from Luther, though, picks up an interesting idea. That the presence of sin in our lives, no matter how small, no matter how big, should drive us to cry out to God for a deeper faith. To trust in Him more, because we realize our incredible need for Him and His healing. As sin is a daily issue, so too is this life of transformation, trusting—depending on God to see be there for us.
Perhaps if we started each day thinking through Peter’s exchange, hearing God ask us, “who do you say I am” And realizing that Jesus is the Son of God, the One chose and anointed (for that is what Messiah means) to bring us to the Father, at any cost. That thought balances off the reverence, and yet the intimacy we need…It reminds us we can cling to Him, we can depend on Him, to care for us. He’s not on our back, He has our back.. for He loves us.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 415.
Gerhard O. Forde, “The Preached God,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 22.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 24.