Thursday, December 31, 2009

No reason to fear a number

New Year's Eve is a time when calendars, dates and numbers come to mind. These can be major causes of spikes for people with OCD.

Among Christians with the disorder, the Mark of the Beast- 666- can cause all sorts of anxiety. It shouldn't. First, with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Satan and all that pertain to him are defeated and utterly harmless to us. If that's so of the Enemy and his legions, how much more so it is of mere symbols for them!

Many Christians waste time trying to decode this and other symbolic numbers in Revelation. In fact, the numbers are a kind of code; in Hebrew letters do double duty as numbers. Bearing this in mind,  it should be instructive that Neron Imperator ("Nero the Emperor") and Diocletian Imperator ("Diocletian the Emperor")- the names of the Roman emperors who sponsored respectively the first and the last of the persecutions, and the two fiercest- both decode to "666." Is there another enemy of Christ and His church who will arise, and whose name will also yield the same result when subjected to "Hebrew arithmetic?" Perhaps. But if so, he will still represent a defeated power, and can do us no more spiritual harm than Nero or Diocletian can today.

Christ has triumphed over all we fear- including the Antichrist, and even his boss.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dryness, inattentiveness... and trust

I suffered complete spiritual dryness, almost as if I were quite forsaken. As usual, Jesus slept in my little boat. I know that other souls rarely let him sleep peacefully, and he is so wearied by the advances he is always making that he hastens to take advantage of the rest I offer him. It’s likely that as far as I'm concerned, he will stay asleep until the great final retreat of eternity. But that doesn’t upset me. It fills me with great joy…. I should be distressed that I drop off to sleep during my prayers and during my thanksgiving after Holy Communion. But I don’t feel at all distressed. I know that children are just as dear to their parents whether they are sleep or awake and I know that doctors put their patients to sleep before they operate. So I just think that God “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. "

-- St. Therese of Lisieux

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Unto you

Luke 2:1-23 (ESV)

The Birth of Jesus Christ
1In those day a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem,because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels
8And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 "Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

15When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 16And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

(Christmas Eve services at Saint Mary were cancelled due to ice. But there's no use in wasting a perfectly good sermon!)

Getting the Message Right
Luke 2:14
The Vigil of Christmas
December 24, 2009

There was a poem we learned in seminary during Summer Greek. It started like this:

Greek is a dead language,
Dead as it can be.
It killed off all the ancient Greeks,
And now it’s killing me.

Greek isn’t really a dead language, of course. They speak it in Greece even today, although in a simpler and slightly less lethal form. Latin is a dead language. Hebrew was a dead language- at least until the State of Israel was founded back in 1948. But living or dead, Greek is a language that can drive you crazy, especially if you grew up speaking English. The grammar and the structure and the whole mind-set of the Greek language is very different, and it’s no surprise that sometimes even professional linguists make mistakes in translating it.

Modern translations sometimes say that Mary was Joseph’s fiancée. Well, that’s a mistake. Engagement is a modern American invention. Betrothal is a very different animal. A betrothed couple hadn’t promised to marry each other some time in the future. Betrothed couples were already considered married. Mary wasn’t an unwed mother. But until the angel visited Joseph to let him in on what was going on, it would have appeared to him that she was an adulteress. Being willing to be the mother of the Messiah meant being willing to risk a great deal.

But we’re all used to hearing the Christmas story in the words of the King James Version, and those words include a much bigger mistake. It’s in the words the angels sang to the shepherds. All of us grew up hearing those words as, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

That’s a pleasant warm fuzzy for a cold winter’s night. But it’s not what the best manuscripts say. What we have here is not a wish for people to be nice to one another. True enough, there has been all too little peace in the sad and sorry story of the human race, and human beings have shown each other not nearly enough good will. But what we have here is not merely a wish that it were otherwise. Nor is it merely a statement that the angels are well disposed toward our species. And still less is it a statement of vague good wishes on God’s part toward our species. It was not merely a Christmas card that God sent the human race on that first Christmas. It was not merely a cheap and easy wish that we should be well and be happy.

In order to come to terms with the meaning of the angel’s song, it’s necessary to confront a reality we’d just as soon avoid. The fact of the matter is that we human beings don’t live at peace with one another, and never really have. Good will has always been a commodity that’s been in short supply on this planet. Whether it’s been nations, between strangers, or between members of the same family, that lack of peace and good will has implications also for our relationship with God. In failing to live in peace and good will toward one another, we’ve lived in alienation from God as well. And we’ve taken that alienation still farther. We’ve insisted on our right to live as we see fit, and to define right and wrong as we ourselves prefer. We have become our own little tin gods.

Not only have we lived in alienation from God and from each other, but also we’ve lived in alienation from our very selves. We know better, whether we admit it to ourselves or not. One of the reasons why we’re so defensive where our relationships with God with and our fellow human beings are concerned is because we know that the content of our hearts and our consciences is often indefensible. All of us have things of which we are ashamed, and about which our consciences are uneasy. We live at odds with ourselves, as well as with God and with our fellow human beings.

We push God away- and other human beings, too. We separate ourselves from the source of love, and peace- and of life itself. And then, we die.

That is the dilemma that made the first Christmas necessary. That was the reason why God took human form. This night is not about cute babies lying in the straw, and still less is it about vague good wishes from God toward the human race.

This night is about life and death. It is about humanity at war with itself, and with its God. It’s about all those things we’re so defensive about, and all those things we have to answer for, whether we’re willing to admit it or not.

It’s about a human race under divine judgment, and no less conscious that it lives under the condemnation of God’s justice for all that it lives in deep denial.

And the Baby in the manger is the peace between God on one hand, and between you and me, on the other. He’s the peace between us human beings, as well. And that’s where the mistake in the King James translation of our text comes in. The Greek doesn’t say “good will toward men.” It says “peace among those with whom God is pleased.”

But that’s not good news, is it? After all, we’re the ones who can’t get along with God, with each other, or even with ourselves. As vehemently as the Pharisee in us may deny it, we are the ones who know deep down that we don’t deserve God’s approval, or His friendship, or His love.

But those things are precisely what God gives us in the Person of that Baby in the manger. He is the Righteousness of those who have no righteousness. He is the source of healing for the broken, and freedom for those in bondage. He is the forgiveness for the guilty, and the Pardon for the condemned. He is the Gift of life to those who deserve only death. He is the Peace for those at war with others, with God, and with themselves.

In Him God is pleased with precisely those who least deserve His pleasure, and in Him God declares Himself at peace with all those who are at war with Him.

Tragically, most will continue to wage war against Him regardless of that peace, and will insist on living outside of his healing and His freedom and His forgiveness. Most will insist that they have no need of such things, and if they take note of this night at all will see in it a charming story full of angels and shepherds and cute little babies and other warm fuzzies- and nothing more.

Most will insist on going their own way, and continue to live at odds with God and with others and with their very selves. Most will insist on living- and dying- in denial. That is their privilege. God will not force His gift of peace upon them.

But the angels sing to the shepherds, and to us this night- and to all the human race- that whether or not we insist on living and dying at war with God, in the Person of that Baby God has declared peace with us. Most will spend eternity separated from Him. But that will be their choice, not His. If they insist on an eternity at war with God, that will not change the fact that in the Person of the Baby in that manger God, for His part, has declared hostilities ended, judgment set aside, and all of those who least deserve His pleasure to be precisely those with whom, for that Child’s sake, He is pleased.

It is no cheap, empty sentiment of which the angels sing. It is no easy pleasantry from God which they pass on the shepherds. It is the gift of His peace, and His pardon, and His good will to those who have no claim upon them.

It is not merely that God wishes us well, or even that He would like it if we got along each other. It is that He Himself has come among us in the Person of that Child to pay the price and bear the burden for our ill will, and to buy peace between us at the price of His own life.

It is that for His sake, and no matter how little we deserve it or what we have done or what may weigh upon our consciences, for His sake we are those with whom He is well pleased.

May the peace of God, which He gives us in the person of that Child, be your life and your hope through all eternity. Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Christmas means for those with scrupulosity

For, if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know and feel that there inothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadnessin my heart. For, if what the angel says is true, then he is our Lord and Savior, what can sin do against us? "If God is for us, who is against us? --Martin Luther

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why worry?

Most Christians are familiar with the Apostle's Creed. It contains an affirmation which OCDers seem to have a great deal of difficulty with: "I believe in the...forgiveness of sins."

"Is this a sin?" "Is that a sin?" The anxiety with which some Christians ask that question about the minutia of their lives seems to call into question whether they really do believe that God forgives sins! The fact of the matter is that we can't go through a single day without sinning. In fact, we commit many of our sins without even realizing it!

Fortunately, we are justified (declared righteous) neither by maintaining a clean slate nor (as other OCDers seem to think) by the good work of confessing each individual sin and asking for forgiveness. We are justified by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith. A believer is judged perfect by God even when she commits a sin of weakness of which she is not aware, and even before she confesses it to God and asks for forgiveness! We are declared righteous simply because Jesus died for us, and we grasp hold of that gift simply by believing!

We don't confess or even ask for forgiveness so much in order to be forgiven, but because we are forgiven. We want to apologize to God in much the same way we would apologize to any other friend whom we had done something to offend, even if we knew that he didn't hold it against us. But we are under no compulsion to dot every 'i' and cross every 't.' God forgives us by grace, and we receive that forgiveness through faith.

In fact, don't look now, but God forgave every sin you will ever commit the moment Jesus cried "It is finished!" from the cross. Even faith simply lays hold on what He has already obtained for us.

A person who is grateful for that gift will not blithely sin away without worrying about it. In fact, he can't; the Holy Spirit who dwells within his heart won't let him. And certainly Christians strive to think and to do those things which are pleasing to God. But even sinful thoughts need not be repressed or magically undone; once a thought has passed through our minds, all that remains is to repent and move on. Better, surely, to do that than to keep a sinful thought in our minds by dwelling on it and worrying about it!

And if it's not sinful, even that doesn't have to be done.

So why in the world would a person who believes in the forgiveness of sins worry and fret about whether this or that thought was a sin? When it comes down to it, all of our thoughts, in themselves, are soiled with our sinfulness. Best to simply commend our thoughts- especially the ones we're tempted to worry about- to God's grace, and move on, joyfully trusting in the forgiveness of sins.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Feelings, nothing more than feelings....

Conscience is what we believe about right and wrong. It is not a feeling or emotion. People with OCD often react emotionally to a thought, and the biochemical flaw in their brains makes it "stick" in a way that makes them think that something perfectly innocent may in fact be a sin or be dangerous in some other way. The result is an obsession- an irrational response bearing no relationship to reality that we can't seem to shake.

In our society, we overvalue emotions. We even allow them to guide our decisions and attitudes. Since cognitive psychology tell us that emotions are biochemical responses to thoughts, that might not be as bad a thing for most people as it might be. But for people with OCD, the thoughts are often random and quite crazy. We might even be aware of its craziness if we only examine it. But instead, we listen to the emotion.

If you have OCD, never let your emotions tell you that something is wrong. Instead, identify and examine the thought that produces them in light of God's Word and common sense.. Remember, you conscience is what you rationally think about something, not what you feel about it. And God is not the Author of confusion. When He forbids something, it's something that can be rationally identified. A vague feeling unattached to the violation of an identifiable commandment or law of God is nothing but an obsession. Ignore it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Believe God, not your feelings

When we refuse to believe, we disdain God as a deceiver, as though the things He declares to us were not true, that He can and wants to do them for us…. A believing heart, on the other hand, honors God with the highest possible honor due Him, for it regards Him as trustworthy, as incapable of lying, as One Who certainly fulfills what He promises.

Word and faith are correlatives; the one is never without the other. If a person has faith without the Word, he believes like the Turk or the Jew; they believe that God is benevolent and good, but they are without the promise, for God will not be gracious apart from Christ. Contrariwise, whoever has the Word but no faith, for him the Word avails nothing. Therefore, both belong together, Word and faith, like marriage partners, and they must not be separated.

We who have the Word at times do not believe and trust as firmly as those who do not have the Word. This is the devil’s doing, the result of original sin which causes us to be drawn away from the Word and the truth, toward believing the lie rather. In short it is the devil’s fraud and our flesh’s deception because our natures are so corrupted by original sin. When the Word is absent, we have faith galore; but when we have the Word, it is only with great difficulty that we ward off unbelief. That’s because our flesh and our reason want to have nothing to do with the Word; they are willing to believe only what they want to believe.

Think what it would mean if we rightly and truly believed that what Christ here says to the man sick with palsy, He is saying to you and to me every day in baptism, in absolution, and in public preaching, that I must not mistakenly think that God is angry and ungracious toward me. Shouldn’t that cause me to stand on my head with joy? Wouldn’t that make everything sweet as sugar, pure as gold, sheer everlasting life? The fact that this doesn’t happen for us proves that the “old Adam” and the devil drag us away from faith and the Word…. You must have the Word, and faith must cling to the Word, never questioning it in any way. You then have everything the Word promises and which you require for support of body and soul. Those who don’t have the Word are strong in faith too, but they believe only as much as by nature they’re inclined to believe, preferring to believe a lie. That’s the way it is with the human heart ever since the devil corrupted our nature in Paradise.

If you want to have forgiveness of sin, do not try to climb into heaven, but go and be baptized, if you are not already, or, if you have been, remember the promise God has made to you in your baptism, be reconciled to your neighbor, and ask the absolution be declared unto you in Jesus’ name. Believe the Word, receive the most venerable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, so that you may be sure that such priceless treasure is meant for you to have and enjoy.

We are to seek the forgiveness of sins in the Word which is spoken by human mouth and in the Sacrament administered by men, and nowhere else.

By nature we are all palsied. The more we try to draw close to God and be reconciled with Him through our works, the farther from Him we get; and the more our hand pushes Him away, the greater becomes the trepidation in us. I must confess concerning myself that when I think I can do things very well on my own, I’m actually making things much worse, because I’m not acting in my faith. If, therefore, we want to be helped in this dilemma, we need to look away from our works and trust in Christ Who is able to help us wondrously. He says to us, “Be of good cheer, my son, your sins are forgiven you.” With such word the limbs again become strong and sound, capable of helping us to carry a load, as happened here with the palsied man whom Christ healed physically, having bestowed the forgiveness of sins upon him.

We know that the Holy Spirit does not want to carry on His work apart from the Word and Sacraments. For this reason we dare not disdain the Word and Sacraments, but we should cherish them as the very best and noblest of treasures.
-- Martin Luther

Friday, October 16, 2009

Luther's anfechtungen

This article by Pastor Richard Bucher describes Martin Luther's anfechtungen- his devastating episodes of feeling judged and rejected and utterly condemned by God. These are experiences with which many Christians with OCD are likely to be all too familiar.

While Pr. Bucher is right in saying that they were not simply manifestations of clinical depression, he is wrong in denying that they had a psychological component. These experiences were certainly encounters with the Living God and His Law. But they were encounters filtered through Luther's OCD, much the relationship of anyone with OCD with God is experienced through that filter. Certainly Luther's own theology would recognize that to feel condemned by the Law is not in itself a bad thing; it is a necessary step toward the forgiveness and healing brought by the Gospel. But that is where OCD poses a special kind of spiritual problem: while the sufferer can hear the accusing voice of the Law all too well, it can be remarkably difficult for such a person to hear and believe the Good News of God's grace in Christ.

The answer Luther found was nonetheless the answer God offers to every sinner: the righteousness of His Son, given as a gift of grace, and apprehended through faith. It's God's answer to our obsessions about our sins brought about by our broken brains, as well as to the sins born of our broken souls and corrupted hearts and wills.

Cling to that promise of forgiveness and acceptance through Christ, Luther urges. Hang on to Jesus for dear life. He is the only righteousness any of us will ever have in this life. He is the only righteousness any of us need in the next. And He categorically promises over and over again never to cast out anyone who clings to His promise of forgiveness and eternal life by grace through faith in Him.

The name "Satan" literally means "the Accuser." Don't listen to the accusations of the Enemy, Luther advises, when he casts your sins into your teeth in an effort to disrupt your relationship with God. Instead, cling to Jesus- and believe Jesus, not Satan.

Or, he might have added had he been born a few centuries later, of your OCD.

An oft-misquoted letter from Martin Luther

...If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.

We will commit sins while weare here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day*. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins?

Pray hard, for you are quite a sinner.

--From a letter to fellow scrupe sufferer Phillip Melanththon, 1521

*A believer, as Luther always insisted, will not willingly commit sin. His point here is not that we should or even dare give our fallen nature its head- no believer would ever consider such a thing- but rather that no sin can harm a person who by faith is joined to the One Who has conquered sin on our behalf.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

From St. Julian of Norwich

From Nik:

God brought to my mind that I (would) sin, and and that because of the joy I had in looking on him, I was reluctant to look on this Showing. But the Lord was patient with me and gave me grace to listen. And this Showing I took as as shown to me personally, but by all the healing comfort that follwed, as you shall see, I was taught to see that it was meant for all my fellow Christians and not just for me. Though are Lord showed me I (would) sin, by this he meant all, and not just me.

This filled me with quiet fear but our Lord answered: "I will keep you safe." These words were said with more love, and certainty, and spiritual consolation than I am allowed or able to tell.

--St.Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Write it down, and pray it out

Good post by Pastor Peperkorn over at I Trust When Dark My Road on getting the things between our ears that are growing into monsters out in the open- and on paper, where you can assess it objectively.

David wasn't afraid to complain to God in the Psalms. And if you're angry with Him- tell Him so.

Healthy relationships thrive on honesty. Our relationship with God is no exception.

Spurgeon on the cross and the believer

From Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from Shannon:

Our heavenly Father sends us frequent troubles to try our faith. If our faith be worth anything, it will stand the test. Gilt is afraid of fire, but gold is not: the paste gem dreads to be touched by the diamond, but the true jewel fears no test. It is a poor faith which can only trust God when friends are true, the body full of health, and the business profitable; but that is true faith which holds by the Lord's faithfulness when friends are gone, when the body is sick, when spirits are depressed, and the light of our Father's countenance is hidden. A faith which can say, in the direst trouble, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him," is heaven-born faith. The Lord afflicts His servants to glorify Himself, for He is greatly glorified in the graces of His people, which are His own handiwork. When "tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope," the Lord is honoured by these growing virtues. We should never know the music of the harp if the strings were left untouched; nor enjoy the juice of the grape if it were not trodden in the winepress; nor discover the sweet perfume of cinnamon if it were not pressed and beaten; nor feel the warmth of fire if the coals were not utterly consumed. The wisdom and power of the great Workman are discovered by the trials through which His vessels of mercy are permitted to pass. Present afflictions tend also to heighten future joy. There must be shades in the picture to bring out the beauty of the lights. Could we be so supremely blessed in heaven, if we had not known the curse of sin and the sorrow of earth? Will not peace be sweeter after conflict, and rest more welcome after toil? Will not the recollection of past sufferings enhance the bliss of the glorified? There are many other comfortable answers to the question with which we opened our brief meditation, let us muse upon it all day long.

George Whitfield on intrusive thoughts and the Christian

Via Grantley Morris, courtesy of Ralph:

There are Christians who feel like God has rejected them and mistakenly suppose that their Lord will spurn them for all of eternity and yet, despite it all, these amazing men and women of God continue to do their best to serve the Lord. Most Christians can only gasp in awe that anyone feeling this way would continue with God. I am convinced that such people will be exalted forever as heaven's heroes. Here is an excerpt from George Whitefield: And think not that God is angry with you for these distracting, though ever so blasphemous thoughts. No, He knows it is not you, but Satan working in you; and therefore, though God will certainly punish him; yet reward and pity you. And though it is difficult to make persons in your circumstances to believe so; yet I do not doubt that you are more acceptable to God when performing your holy duties in the midst of such involuntary distractions, than when you are wrapped up by devotion, as it were, into the third heavens; for when the unwanted thoughts come you are suffering, as well as doing the will of God.

C.F.W. Walther on the Unpardonable Sin

From The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel:

Thesis XXIV.

In the twentieth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the unforgiven sin against the Holy Ghost is described in a manner as if it could not be forgiven because of its magnitude.

This current description of the unpardonable sin is a horrid confounding of Law and Gospel.

Only the Law condemns sin; the Gospel absolves the sinner from all sins without an exception. The prophet writes; “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white a snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Is 1, 18. The Apostle Paul writes, Rom 5, 20: “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Accordingly, Luther sings out in a glorious strain: —

Though great our sins and sore our woes,
  His grace much more boundeth;
His helping love no limit knows,
  Our utmost need it soundeth.

Now, then, what does Holy Scripture say regarding the sin against the Holy Ghost? Concerning this sin we have three parallel passages in the synoptic gospels, a passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and one in the First Epistle of St. John. These passages are the real seat of doctrine for the sin against the Holy Ghost.

Matt. 12, 30–32: He that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. This is the principal passage. It states, to begin with, that all blasphemy against the Father and the Son shall be forgiven; only the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven. Now, it is certain that the Holy Spirit is not a more glorious and exalted person than the Father and the Son, but He is coequal with them. Accordingly, the meaning of this passage cannot be that the unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the person of the Holy Spirit; for blasphemy against the Father and the Son is exactly the same sin. The blasphemy to which our text refers is directed against the office, or operation of the Holy Spirit; whoever spurns the office of the Holy Spirit, his sin cannot be forgiven. The office of the Holy Spirit is to call men to Christ and to keep them with Him.

The text mentions in particular, that the person committing this sin “speaketh against the Holy Ghost”. This shows that the sin in question is not committed by blasphemous thoughts that arise in the heart. Not infrequently dear Christians imagine they have committed this sin when they are visited with horrid thoughts of which they cannot rid themselves. Our Lord Christ foresaw this, and for that reason He informed us that the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost that is not forgiven must have been uttered by the mouth. The devil shoots his fiery darts into the hearts of the best Christians, causing them to revolve in their hearts the most horrible thoughts against their heavenly Father and against the Holy Spirit, however, against their will. Earnest Christians have complained that, while going to Communion, they have been harassed with the most horrible thoughts against the Holy Ghost. Such thoughts are the devil’s filth. When I am sitting in a beautiful room with windows open and a bad boy throws dirt into the room, I am not responsible for this. In His wise providence God permits His dear children to be vexed day and night with such thoughts. The best preachers have met with such instances among the members of their congregations. But that is not the sin against the Holy Ghost, which consists in blasphemy that is pronounced orally.

I have had to treat spiritually a girl who even uttered thoughts of this kind, but at the same time fell on the ground, weeping and moaning to be delivered from her affliction by God. She did not come to rest until she realized that it was not she that was uttering those thoughts. Satan had taken possession of her lips. of course, Modernists, who deny such power of the devil, call this explanation a superstitious notion.

Mark 3, 28–30: Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blasphemed; but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost has never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation; because they said, He hath an unclean spirit. Here we have the record of an actual blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. When Christ, by the finger of God, cast out devils, the Pharisees, who had come down from Jerusalem, declared this operation of the holy Spirit a work of the devil. They were convinced in their hearts that it was a divine work, but since the Savior had rebuked them for their hypocrisy and mien of sanctimoniousness they conceived a deadly hatred against Christ, and that incited them to blasphemy against the holy Ghost.

Accordingly we have here this explanation offered us: to declare a work of the Holy Ghost a work of the devil when one is convinced that it is a work of the Holy Ghost, that is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. This shows us what a serious matter this is. There are no Christians that do not occasionally resist the operations of divine grace and then try to persuade themselves that they were only chasing away gloomy thoughts. Does this mean anything but that such thoughts are of the devil? The doctrine now before us warns us that, if we wish to be saved, we must yield promptly to the operation of the Holy Spirit as soon as we feel it and not resist it. For in the next stage the person who resists may find himself saying: “This operation is not by the Holy Spirit.” The following stage will be that he begins to hate the way by which God wants to lead him to salvation, and ultimately he will blaspheme that way. Accordingly, let us be on our guard. Let us open the door to the Holy Spirit whenever He knocks and not take the view of worldly men who regard these sensations as symptom of melancholia.

This is not a jesting matter; for unless the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, we shall never attain it. Whoever rejects the Holy Spirit is beyond help, even by God. God wants the order maintained which he has ordained for our salvation. He brings no one into heaven by force. On the occasion to which our text refers Christ had just healed the man with the withered hand and had driven out a devil. Everybody saw that the power of God was making an inroad into the kingdom of Satan. But the reprobates who stood by said: “Ah! Beelzebub is in this Jesus; that is why He can cast out inferior devils.” The very action which they had witnessed, the works and the words of Christ, showed that He was arrayed against the devil and was destroying the devil’s kingdom. It was wholly out of reason to imagine that the devil would help Christ in that work.

Luke 12, 10: Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. Again we see that it is essential to the sin against the Holy Ghost that the blasphemy is uttered, and that, knowingly and purposely.

We have a very important statement regarding this sin in Heb 6, 4–8: For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost and have tasted of the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame. For the earth that drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed receiveth blessing from God; but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. It is characteristic of the sin against the Holy Ghost that the person who has committed it cannot be restored to repentance. That is simply impossible. It is not God who puts man into this condition, but the sinner by his own fault produces this state of irretrievable impenitence. When this condition has reached a certain degree, God ceases to operate upon him, and there is no further possibility for the person to be saved. Why? Because he cannot be induced to repent. The soil of his heart has been finally blasted and is no longer fructified by the dew and rain of divine grace.

1 John 5, 16: If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is sin unto death. I do not say that he shall pray for it. This passage contains important information for us, but we cannot act upon it. For we can say of no person before his death that he has committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. Even when his mouth utters blasphemies, we do not know to what extent his heart is implicated, or whether the phenomenon is not perhaps an operation of the devil, or whether he is acting in great blindness, and whether he may not be renewed unto repentance. The Christians in the days of the apostles had the gift to discern the spirits. Accordingly, St. John here means to say: “When you see that God has ceased to be gracious to such or such an individual who has committed this sin, you are not to wish either that God should be gracious to him, and you are to cease praying for him.” Neither may we say to God: “Save those who have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.”

This is a shocking statement, and yet it contains a great comfort. Some one may come to you and say: “I am a wretched man — — I have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. I am quite certain of it.” The afflicted may tell you of the evil he has done, the evil he has spoken, and the evil he has thought. It may really look as if he had blasphemed against the Holy Ghost. Now remember the weapon which Heb 6 furnishes for attacking a case like this: “The person is not at all rejoicing over what he tells you; it is all so awfully horrid to him. This shows that God has at least begun to lead him to repentance; all that he need do is to lay hold of the promise of the Gospel. When you ask him whether he has been doing all those evil thing intentionally, he may affirm that involuntarily because Satan makes him affirm the question. When you ask him whether he wishes he had not done those evil things, he will answer: “Yes, indeed; these things are causing me to most awful worry.” That is a sure sign that God has begun the work of repentance in that person. A case like this is indeed not to be treated lightly; the sufferer must be shown that, since there is in him the beginning of repentance he has an indubitable proof that he has not committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. In general, when preaching on this subject, the minister must aim at convincing his hearers that they have not committed this sin rather than warn them not to commit it. To a person who has really committed this sin preaching is of no benefit. Whoever is sorry for his sins and craves forgiveness should be told that he is a dear child of God, but is passing through a terrible tribulation.

Acts 7, 51 we read that Stephen said to his hearers: “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye.” Had these people committed the sin against the Holy Ghost? No; for Stephen died praying for them: “Lord lay not this sin to their charge” V. 60. This shows that, although the Jews had committed willful sins, they had not committed the sin against the Holy Ghost; otherwise the martyr would not have prayed for them. He was, when praying for them, thinking that an hour might come when they would no longer resist the Holy Ghost.

Let us now hear Luther’s comment on 1 John 5, 16. He writes (St. Louis Ed. IX, 1519): “By the term ‘sin unto death’ I understand heresy which these people set up in the place of the truth. If they do not repent after the first and second admonition (Titus 3, 10), their sin is a sin unto death. However, we may number with this class such as sin from stubbornness and in defiance, like Judas, who had been given ample warning, but because of his obstinate wickedness was beyond help; also Saul, who died in his sins because he would not trust in the Lord. But the highest degree of obstinacy is found in those who insist on maintaining and defending their known error.”

The sin is not unpardonable because of its magnitude, — — for the apostle, as we heard, has distinctly declared: “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,“ — but because the person committing this sin rejects the only means by which he can be brought to repentance, faith, and steadfastness in faith. Luther here refers to men whose sin consists in this, that they obstinately defend against their better knowledge and conscience an error which they have recognized as such.

Luther continues: “Of this kind is also the sin against the Holy Ghost, or hardening in wickedness, fighting against the known truth, and final impenitence.”

It is undoubtedly incorrect to regard impenitence unto the end as the sin against the Holy Ghost, as Luther does; for in that case most men would have committed this sin. However, final impenitence is a feature of this sin. The special peculiarity of this sin is that it opposes the office, the operation, of the Holy Ghost.

To return to Luther: “There is another kind of sin which is not unto death. Of this kind was the sin of Paul, to which he refers in 1 Tim 1, 13, saying: ‘I was before a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.’” Paul had committed the awful sin of blaspheming and trying to force Christians to blaspheme; but he as acting in appalling blindness: he had no inkling that he was fighting against God. “Of this sin Christ speaks in Matt 12, 32, saying: ‘Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him.’ Likewise, the sin of the men who crucified Christ was not unto death, for Peter says to them: ‘And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it.’ Acts 3, 17. And Paul says; ‘Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.’ 1 Cor. 2, 8. However, this sin is unto death when it is defended after having been sufficiently revealed and recognized as a sin, because it resists the grace of God, the means of grace, and the forgiveness of sin. Where there is no knowledge of sin, there is no forgiveness. For the forgiveness of sin preached to those who feel their sin and are seeking the grace of God. But these persons [who have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost] are not frightened by any scruples of conscience, nor do they recognize and feel their sin.”

Let every one beware of resisting the Holy Ghost. When a sin has been revealed to him and his own heart affirms that it is a sin, let not his mouth deny the fact. That may not yet be the sin against the Holy Ghost, but it may be a step in that direction. There are many people who admit that we all sin in many ways every day, but when they are reproved, they claim that they never harmed a child.

As regards people who are distressed because they think they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, they would not feel distressed if they really had committed that sin and were in that awful condition of heart, but they would find their constant delight in blaspheming the Gospel. However, Christians in distress still have faith, and the Spirit of God is working in them; and if the Spirit of God is working in them, they have not committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.

An excellent exposition of this matter is found in Baier’s Latin Compend of Positive Theology. He says in Part II, Chap III §24: “The most grievous of all actual sins, which is called the sin against the Holy Ghost, consists in a) a malicious renunciation of, and b) blasphemous and obstinate assaults upon the heavenly truth which had c) once upon a time been known by the person committing this sin.

“a) The manner of denominating this sin thus is derived from its object, which is the Holy Ghost. The term ‘Holy Ghost’ in this place is understood metonymically; it stands for the office which the Holy Ghost discharges in converting the souls of men by the ministry of the Word. This meaning of the term is also found in 2 Cor 3, 6. The sin against the holy Ghost, then, is a sin which is committed against the office and ministry of the Holy Ghost and against the heavenly truth which is revealed by that office and ministry. [To blaspheme the Holy Ghost means to blaspheme His ministry, to declare the operations of the Holy Ghost operations of the devil, and to offer resistance to His office.] It is also called a sin unto death, this denomination being derived from the effect of this sin, because it leads quite definitely to eternal death, or damnation. I John 5, 16. [”Sin unto death” must not be confused with “mortal sin.”*]

“b) The seat of doctrine for this sin is found in Matt 12, 30 ff; Mark 3, 28; Luke 12, 10.

“c) The doctrine of heavenly truth may either have been approved once upon a time with an assent of divine faith and by public profession, or it may have only been perceived so clearly that the heart of the individual was convinced and had no argument to set up against it. In the former manner the sin against the Holy Ghost is committed by those apostles who renounce and vilify the truth which they had once known and believed, such as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews describes in ‘chapter 6, 4 ff. In the later class belong the Pharisees and scribes, who never approved the doctrine of Christ by their profession, although they were convinced of its truth in their heart by the Scripture and the miracles of Christ, and had nothing but calumnies to set up against it. [There are Lutheran theologians who claim that only a truly regenerate person can commit the sin against the Holy Ghost. But that is going too far; for nobody will believe the Pharisees to whom the Lord speaks of this sin had bean truly converted at some previous time; they had simply grown up in their wickedness. It is true, however, that a person can commit this sin even after his regeneration, a fact that is to be maintained over against the Calvinists. It is probable the Judas had been a believer. One can scarcely believe that the Savior would have called him while he was under the wrath of God. Judas fell away later, and Satan took possession not only of his body, but also of his mind.]

“d) In other words, the renunciation of , and assaults upon, the heavenly doctrine must be made ἑκουσίως, ‘willfully’. Heb 10, 26 in such a manner that the source of this renunciation and assault is pure, downright malice. However, those who renounce their faith from ignorance or fear of death are not on that account sinners against the Holy Ghost, but can obtain remission of their sin. See the examples of Paul in 1 Tim 1, 13, and of Peter in Matt 26, 70 ff. [When the Word of God has been clearly and plainly presented to a person and it is evident that he has been impressed by it, because he is abashed, he begins to tremble, and feels that God is approaching him, it is a shocking thing in such a case to hear the person saying: “No, I do not believe that! I do not believe that! You misinterpret Scripture!”] That may not be the sin against the Holy Ghost, but it is a step in that direction. I say, a step in that direction; for the person may reconsider this act and be saved. Peter had taken three steps towards the sin against the Holy Ghost; however, he acted not from hatred against Christ, but from fear. He expected to be put in prison if he were to admit that he was a disciple of Jesus. That fear of Peter gave the devil an opportunity to overthrow this great and solid pillar of the Church. But the Holy Spirit reentered the heart of Peter, and Peter repented of his sin.

“e) In the passages cited under b) this sin is called ‘speaking a word against the Holy Ghost.’ or ‘blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.’ Accordingly, the form which this sin takes is a reviling talk that is aimed against the office of the Holy Spirit, for instance, when His teaching and the wonderful works that were performed in support of it are ascribed to the power and operation of Satan, as was done by the Pharisees.

“f) Accordingly, it is in its very nature a sin of such a character that it cannot be forgiven, and never is forgiven to any one, according to the passages in Matthew and Mark, because by its very nature it blocks the way to repentance. The reason, however, why final impenitence is so closely connected with this sin is that the men who commit it directly and with full malice oppose the means for their conversion and that God therefore withdraws His grace from them and gives them over to a reprobate mind.”

A person who has committed the sin against the Holy Ghost is condemned not so much on account of this sin as rather on account of his unbelief. Unbelief is the general cause (causa communis) and malicious and constant vilification of the truth the particular cause (causa singularis), of his damnation. It is not due to an absolute decree of reprobation, as the Calvinists teach, who maintain the really diabolical error that such men cannot be saved for the reason that Christ did not suffer and atone for their sins and did not redeem them.

*NOTE: "Mortal sin," in Walther's usage and that of other orthodox Lutheran theologians, includes all intentional, willful and deliberate sin. By its very nature, such sins expel the Holy Spirit and cause a person to fall from the faith. These are to be contrasted with venial sins, i.e., sins of weakness such as all Christians fall into every day, which are repented of as soon as the believer becomes aware of them.

This distinction should not be confused with the Roman Catholic use of the term "mortal sin" as a reference to matters which are seriously wrong or thought to be wrong, and of "venial sin" to refer to sins which are somehow less serious. All sins are equally damnable. But in Christ, sin no longer has the power to condemn us; only unbelief does.

Two further comments: first, as Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, the author of Brain Lock, points out, nothing else feels like OCD. Walther's warning against ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit should not be taken as suggesting that feelings accompanied by the oppressive sense of threat and compulsion in the absence of concrete, rational knowledge or suspicion that one has done something contrary to God's Word or is doing so, or is in danger of doing so should be taken seriously. Conscience is a matter of conviction, not of emotion, and Dr. Schwartz's slogan should be borne in mind at all times: if it feels like OCD, it is. Nothing else- and certainly not the Holy Spirit's ministry of conviction- feels like OCD!

Secondly, Walther lived in a time before the nature of OCD was understood. While Satan tries to use all sickness and hardship as a weapon against us (and OCD is particularly amenable to this sort of thing, for obvious reasons), it should not be thought of as something primarily supernatural or demonic in nature. OCD is a physical illness characterized by abnormal structure, chemical usage, and functioning of the brain. It is even believed by many scholars that such great Christians as Luther, Melanchthon, Bunyan, and even St. Paul suffered from it, but that God used the affliction in their cases to work an especially strong and profound understanding and conviction of God's grace and love. God loves to turn the tables on the devil and use his own work against him and in the cases of Luther and Paul and the others he helped millions of others to understand them, too.

 OCD can be caused by physical injury or bacteriological infection. When it is not caused by either of these, we know that at least vulnerability to it is strongly hereditary. This is a medical illness, and when it strikes medical treatment should be sought and taken advantage of!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Honest to God

Years ago, Anglican Bishop John A.T. Robinson wrote a critique of traditional Christianity called Honest to God. I never read it. I don't plan to; it's theology is a little "out there." But the phrase which provided Robinson with his title has played a major role in my own struggle with scrupulosity. Maybe it can help you, too.

Did you ever stop and think how much conventional Christian piety encourages hypocrisy? Do you feel jealousy toward someone else, or hostility? All too often, we're encouraged to deny it and make believe that our hearts are free of such things. Or perhaps we struggle with lust, or pride, or greed, or some other sin. Too many Christians treat these "besetting sins" much the way the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail reacts to having his arms and legs cut off in combat: "No, they're not! Have at you!"

Except, of course, that it doesn't work. Deny that you are jealous, or angry, or proud, or greedy, or lustful, and you're still jealous, or angry, or proud, or greedy, or lustful. You're just in denial about it. You're actually refusing to take the problem to the only One Who can help!

Hypocrisy is just another form of impenitence. Refusing to deny what is in our hearts, of course, must be carefully distinguished from struggling against that jealousy or sinful anger. All believers, by definition, want to please God, and are grieved at being less than He wants us to be. The Holy Spirit within us strives against sin, and motivates us to strive against it, too; indeed, as long as He is present in a heart, the struggle will continue.

Silencing His voice is dangerous in the extreme. Willful sin is fatal to faith; the Spirit will not abide in the same heart with it. But a besetting sin- a sin that grieves us, even if we have little success in striving against it, is another matter. Any believer will struggle against known sin in his or her heart or life. But OCD forces us to do more. It convinces us of the lie that we have to be successful or victorious in that struggle in order to be acceptable to God.

Jesus died for all of our sins, including our besetting sins. That's why they need not frighten us. Nor need we worried about whether we're sorry enough for our sins. The very fact that we're troubled by the thought that we may not be is proof of our repentance.

But it's crucially important to remember that repentance doesn't save us. Faith- trust in God's promise of forgiveness and mercy in Christ- is what does that! Repentance is the by-product of faith, and the gratitude which makes us want to please our Savior. Ironically, we often short-circuit that gratitude by making God, not into a Friend and ally in our struggle with sin, but as a combined Prosecuting Attorney and Executioner Who is just looking for an excuse to zap us!

OCDers are also often plagued by things which are not sins. Intrusive, blasphemous thoughts are an example. These are products of our disorder. They do not come from our hearts. If they did, they wouldn't bother us!

Yet we often put ourselves through needless anguish by worrying about whether a thought is sinful. That's where a sound understanding of Christ's work comes in. If we are bothered by the thought that it might be, that is repentance enough even if it is. So why worry? We're forgiven. The incident is closed as far as God is concerned. And if it's not a sin, again- why worry?

Either way, Jesus has you covered. Realizing that makes it possible to live lives of honesty, openness, and gratitude toward God, knowing that it's not just a matter of our not being able to hide the condition of our hearts from Him. So long as we trust in Jesus, there is no reason why we should want to. We will have sinful hearts as long as we live in this world. But Jesus died for even the darkest thing that lurks there. He looks upon even that as an Enemy He wants to help us with, and not as a reason to stop being our Friend!

Nobody who is concerned about sinning ever has to worry about whether or not he or she actually has. Instead, we can live our lives in trusting confidence, not even trying to do the impossible and hide our hearts from God. We can be honest with Him instead.

Lord Jesus, you have died for the worst my heart can contain. Grant that I may never try to hide even its ugliness and filth from you, Who always wants to heal it, and never to condemn we for it. Grant me the faith to be honest with You. Amen.