The pain in her stomach hurt, and she wanted to go home. She did not like the hospital examining room, and she was especially mad at the nurse who gave her a shot. She just wanted to go home and get away from these people who pressed on her stomach and poked her with needles. But instead of taking her home, I carried her down a hall and handed her to a stranger, who carried her away from me. And as she called out "Daddy" to me, I discovered how little I really knew the love of God the Father.
I knew the verses: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…" (John 3:16); "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8); "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Yes, I knew that it was out of love that God the Father sent his Son, but, after all, it was God the Son, who paid the price!
But I learned better. If I could have taken my daughter's place, I would have done so in a heartbeat. Indeed, I knew then that I would willingly die in her place, for it would be easier to take her pain than to watch her undergo it. And then to hear her call out to me, as though I had abandoned her. That was the hardest part to bear, and it was that experience that shocked me into knowing how little I know of the love of God. It was hard for me to give up my child to one who was taking her to be healed. What was it for God the Father to give up his Son to his enemies who would kill him. What was it for him to hear his Child ask, "Why have you forsaken me?"
I do not know this love by which God the Father gives up his Only Begotten Son, whom he has loved for all eternity and who has love him the same. What wondrous love is this? It is this love displayed at the cross that shatters both my confidence in what I profess to know and my doubts. I don't really know the holiness of God and the horror of sin that make necessary such a terrible price of redemption. I don't really know what justice is that demands such a Sacrifice. And I definitely don't understand the merciful love by which God pays the greatest price to redeem his enemies and make them his children and it was not necessary for justice nor for his happiness. Our death would have been justice. Love between God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was all that was necessary for God's happiness. Why such love for us? For me? I know enough of my pettiness that disqualifies me from being the object of this divine love. And yet there it is, displayed upon the cross along with justice. Like Job, I say, "I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know" (Job 42:3).
Sharper minds can debate the existence of God and tackle the problem of evil. At the cross all that I can do is worship the mystery of my God and his Redemption. This is what matters. Theology – studying God and his work through his written Word – takes us to the mountain peak, not so much as to discover what is on the other side as it is to look out into the expanse to see how all the more greater is what we imagine. Is this not the experience of the scientist? The more he uncovers the greater the mystery deepens. All the more so is the experience of the theologian who believes what he learns and then lets this faith-knowledge take him to new heights through what he experiences.
I have learned what matters because of contemplating life experiences through the lens of Scripture. My own intent in writing these accounts of my spiritual pilgrimage had not been to demonstrate the relevancy of theology. That the lessons I learned corresponded with the five solas was a discovery in itself, and I hope they illustrate the impact that theology necessarily has on the Christian life. As I have discovered in my own life and seen replayed in the lives of many others in my pastoral ministry, it is the theological concepts that we grasp or fail to grasp that determine our ability to live in peace, joy, and love.
We can only give what we possess. We can only live what we know. If we know Christ truly, have faith in his work for us, rest on the grace of God, and trust in his revealed Word, then our hearts will rejoice in the glory of God and enable us to give the love that we have in Christ. I pray that my lessons may help you along such a path of knowledge and of hope.
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