Sola What?: Soli Deo Gloria

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This post was edited July 16, 2014. Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

Of the Five Solae (Five Alones) that are said to sum up the basic doctrine of the Reformers, Soli Deo Gloria is not generally listed first. In determining where to begin examining these ideas, however, I thought it best that we look to the source of all theology: God.

Soli Deo Gloria – to the glory of God alone; for God’s glory alone

“Glory” can be a difficult concept to nail down. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word kabod, derived from kabed (to be heavy), “lends itself to the idea that the one possessing glory is laden with riches (Gen. 31:1), power (Isa. 8:7), position (Gen. 45:13), etc.” (1) This certainly describes the Lord, and yet leaves out the important aspect of His “inherent majesty.” (2) God is majesty itself, unmatched in splendor, by virtue of His being. He need not do anything to achieve this glory. This idea is carried over into the New Testament, the Greek word doxa denoting “His majesty [and] perfection.” (3)

There is another sense in which “glory” may be used:

The intrinsic worth of God, His ineffable majesty, constitutes the basis of warnings not to glory in riches, wisdom or might (Jer. 9:23) but in the God who has given all these and is greater than His gifts. (4)

Here we move from description to action. When we are instructed to “glory in God,” we are being told to take great delight in Him. To find Him as the source of all our pride and pleasure. Material possessions are not our security, nor is wealth or notoriety. Our satisfaction, identity and sense of safety is to come in knowing He who is glorious.

In essence, then, every aspect of a Christian’s life is to be lived in recognition and reflection of the glory of God. We worship and honor Him because we love Him and understand our place before Him. We know who He is and know that this is what He is due.

Up to this point, orthodox Christians on both sides of the Reformation aisle agree.

The argument exists in the divide between Protestant doctrine, which does not distinguish between different sorts of glory or honor, and Catholic doctrine, which does. Catholics use three levels or degrees (for lack of better terminology) when describing the verb sort of glory. There is latria, the supreme worship reserved for God alone; dulia, the reverence (deep respect for someone or something) accorded to saints and angels; and hyperdulia, higher than dulia but less than latria, properly reserved for the Virgin Mary. These distinctions appear to be based in passages such as Exodus 20:12, where God commands children to honor their parents. Catholic authors point out that the word for “honor” here is the same one used to describe God’s glory, and thus, to their thinking, renders Soli Deo Gloria false.

I do not have time to get into each of the Marian dogmas; that will have to be reserved for another post. But let me say here that I’m thankful that Mary submitted to God. I’m thankful that she chose to cooperate with God’s plan to save humanity and set the cosmos to rights. And I certainly respect all faithful Christians who have gone before me, who can rightly all be called saints, just as we who live today can be called saints (1 Cor. 1:12). I appreciate the example of their obedience.

Here is the key question in all of this: What is the relationship between honor, glory and worship?

Yes, we are told to honor our parents. Yes, we should be thankful for and inspired by the obedience of Mary and other Christians. But the respect I owe to my parents by virtue of their position is nowhere near the same thing as the respect I owe to God by virtue of His. The language may use the same words, but the concepts are totally different. As an adult daughter, I respect my parents by seeking out their wisdom, speaking with love, doing as they ask when I am in their home (admittedly not always without a grumble) and, as they age, taking care of them. Yet I can (and do) disagree with them. Our views and habits diverge in many ways. Despite these differences, we are able to maintain relationship.

By contrast, when I disagree with God, it’s called sin and it has enormous repercussions. Certainly there is room for asking God questions, for seeking clarification of His will on this or that matter. And, to the everlasting praise of His name!, He does forgive us when we sin if we confess and ask. But, ultimately, I as a Christian will do what God wants me to do – and I’ll do it His way. Period. No exchanges or refunds.

There is a huge difference between the two cases.

Further, the fact that we are commanded to worship God (Deut. 6:13) indicates an intimate relationship between giving Him glory and worshiping Him. In fact, we might say that the two are synonymous. We thus tread very dangerous ground with the categories of latria, dulia and hyperdulia. There is no human being, no matter her outstanding qualities, who deserves greater respect than another. There are not various pedestals on which to place the people in our lives, past or present, some lower, some higher.

In short, the more we focus on another person, the more we hone in our attention upon him, the more likely we are to begin worshiping. The teaching of the Catholic Church on the “degrees” of glory paves the way to this idolatry. 

There is one pedestal, and only One who can rightly be upon it.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told that certain people are to occupy a space somewhere between ourselves and God. There are people and there is God. People below and God above. That’s it. We are to worship God alone, an idea outlined nicely here:

We worship God because he is God. Period. Our extravagant love and extreme submission to the Holy One flows out of the reality that God loved us first. It is highly appropriate to thank God for all the things he has done for us. However, true worship is shallow if it is solely an acknowledgement of God’s wealth. Psalm 96:5-6 says, “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.” In other words, our worship must be toward the One who is worthy simply because of His identity as the Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent One, and not just because God is wealthy and able to meet our needs and answer our prayers. We must focus our practice of worship on the worthiness of God and not his wealthiness.

So we give glory to God alone.

The examples of Mary and the saints, past and present, should drive us to live lives that glorify God alone. These believers certainly offered respect where respect was due (to their parents, to civil authorities), but I see no evidence of anyone other than God being at the center of their existence. Consider the Magnificat, Mary’s worship song, recorded in Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has been mindful
of the humble state of His servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is His name.

His mercy extends to those who fear Him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as He promised our ancestors.” (NKJV)

Over and over again Mary glorifies the Lord. She rejoices in Him. She is thankful for His mindfulness. She will be called blessed because of what He will accomplish through her, because of what He has done for her. He is holy, merciful, mighty. He lifts up the humble, fills the hungry, helps His servants. This is entirely about God.

The Lord fashioned this world and everything in it (Gen. 1). He knew us before we were born (Ps. 139:13). He placed a longing for eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). We were made to worship God alone (Ps. 29:1). We were made to live for His glory. Our lives only make sense when oriented around the Lord.

Best to let Him occupy the pedestal and keep every person on the same, earthly level we ourselves occupy.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.

 

References:

1 E. F. Harrison. “Glory,” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. by Walter A. Elwell. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 484.

2 Ibid., 484.

3 Ibid., 484.

4 Ibid., 484.

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How I Came to Faith: These Days

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Gentle Reader,

That dark season when Chris and I both found a new level of intimacy with the Lord led directly to a season of testing. It seems as though the moment our hearts were stolen by Him, He determined to test our devotion. When a non-believer hears something like that, strange visions must arise. Again, there were no burning bushes, no audible voices. The question we were asked is the one that believers have been asked time and again, whatever their era.

Will you follow Me?

For awhile this question made sense in the context of getting our lives on track. We stopped partying. I dove into Bible study and found that it thrilled me. Chris took his medication and went to his therapy sessions. We just kept doing “the next thing,” whatever it was. When your life is mostly about surviving one day at a time, that’s all you can do.

As we both grew more confident in our faith, ourselves and our relationship, the implications of the question changed. Obeying God began to cost something. Friendships began to deteriorate as we no longer fit into a neat little mold. The worst came when it grew clear that we could no longer remain at the church we’d been part of for nearly four years. We both had serious misgivings about the direction the leadership was moving the people toward. Things began to feel uncomfortable. Theological questions began to arise – questions that we could not get satisfactory answers to.

Breaking up is hard to do. By the time we left, the damaged relationships and the spiritual abuse we experienced were intertwined in ways that shouldn’t have been. I was done. Though quite decided in following the Lord, I wanted nothing more to do with the church. Frankly, I thought most of His people sucked.

He kept on me. Will you follow Me? A friend of mine from high school moved back to the area. He and his wife invited us to attend their church one Sunday. I was skeptical, to say the least, but Chris seemed eager to go and I didn’t feel like arguing (again) about church. We went, heard a sermon, met some people, ate some food. Nothing earth-shattering.

Except, it was. The difference between the two churches was staggering. The one didn’t claim to be perfect. In fact, a certain level of dysfunction seemed to be expected. The very imperfect human journey with a perfect Lord was embraced. The occasional spat was tolerated as long as it led to growth amongst the parties involved. The pastor didn’t claim to have all the answers. Instead, he admitted to his own struggles. His preaching came from a place of brokenness, rather than superiority.

I came to the realization that no dichotomy of perfect vs. fallen churches exists. There is rather a continuum from healthy to unhealthy. The place we left had begun well but had slid into unhealthy territory. Too much power was given to too few people with too little accountability. It became about processes and rears in seats rather than the work of discipleship. This new church, while certainly home to some unhealthy people, strove to be healthy. Christ was at the center.

I have hope for the church today because of the people I know in this little congregation. They are beautiful. The building isn’t. The coffers aren’t overflowing. The singing is sometimes off-key. The pastor gets distracted in his preaching. But there is warmth. There is heart.

There is Jesus.

I am a Christian because of Jesus. There is no more compelling figure in all of history. He steps into the midst of our pain, our sorrow, our confusion, our despair and provides the answer. That answer isn’t us. We can’t save ourselves. There is no golden utopia waiting to spring from the minds and hands of perfect people. Such a people do not exist. Look out your window. Look in the mirror. You know it to be true.

Jesus, God-Man, came into this world to rescue and heal it. Believers exist in the “already” aspect of His Kingdom while history looks forward to the “not yet.” It is only by living in light of His Lordship that life takes on purpose and meaning. Joy – the ability to look beyond the now and into something better – flows as a result of knowing Him. He grants grace, mercy, peace. He changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

I am a Christian because of Jesus. He kept my husband alive. He stopped me from killing myself just a little less than a year ago. I have seen Him work in time and space to such a degree that my father-in-law, after breaking both of his knees, was brought from Europe to the United States by a missionary who “just happened” to be in the area. The only missionary in the area that our church had any kind of contact with. I have seen babies who should have died thrive. I have seen marriages restored. I have seen prodigals return. I have had bills paid and needs met. I have witnessed testimonies of those who tumors have disappeared.

Above all, I have seen love. Real, selfless, lasting love. I have watched people spend money they can’t spare to help others in need. I have known some whose wretched tempers used to control them who are now gentle as lambs. I have seen big men rock children to sleep. I have seen women with nothing in common embrace each other as sisters. I have siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents all across this area because of Jesus.

I could not see Him until my eyes were opened. Again, I don’t understand the mystery of His will and ours. All I know is that I reached a point where I wanted to see. I no longer desired to suppress the truth. And there is truth, my friend.

His name is Jesus.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here

How I Came to Faith: Tough Days

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Gentle Reader,

The late afternoon sun poured through the kitchen window, setting the bright orange and harvest gold appliances ablaze. I could see the dust hanging in the air. Seemed like I could never get things clean enough.

Chris sank to the curling, pock-marked linoleum, his face caving in to grief.

My husband, my dear, funny, strong husband wanted to kill himself.

The world stopped spinning. I heard nothing but the beating of my heart. The pounding filled my ears, my soul. How was I supposed to respond?

Being the “put your head down and plow through” sort of person that I am, I called my parents. Mincing no words, I demanded that they come over. We had to take Chris to the hospital. Hanging up, I turned to face him again. He was crying. Holding his head. I was too afraid to touch him. I called his men’s group leader. Called our best friends. Anything to fill the time until my parents arrived.

My mom came in and asked me what happened. I can’t remember what I said. My dad helped Chris stand up and pack a bag in case he was admitted. Chris didn’t need convincing. He climbed into the car. I wedged myself between him and my brother. Nobody said anything.

Why is it that hospital waiting rooms are so uncomfortable? The five of us sat in a row, pleather (or whatever that material is) sticking to our sweaty skin. I filled out forms as best I could. Chris calmed down some. Several tissues were balled in his hand. An occasional tear dripped off the end of his nose. We listened to a young boy scream, three of his bloody fingers wrapped in an old towel. Someone vomited. The automatic doors swished open and swished shut with each admittance.

Chris reached for my hand. He gripped it with an force I didn’t expect. I looked into his eyes and saw the desperate fear. I excused myself.

The bathroom became my own private sanctuary. It didn’t matter if anyone else heard my words. “God,” I began, wavering somewhere between rage and sick fear, “if You are real, then You had better show Yourself.” (I don’t recommend this kind of demand, but, thankfully, the Lord knows all of our weaknesses and shows great mercy).

There was no burning bush. No booming voice. I faced the same questions, grappled with the same fears. What if Chris was admitted? How would we pay for it? Would I have to come and see him every day? (I hate hospitals.) Would he lose his job? Would i have to start working more hours? What did it mean to live with someone who was depressed?

By the time I walked back into the waiting room, Chris was called back. The nurses quickly took his vitals and asked him a few questions. We were ushered into a consultation room to await the psychiatric nurse. My heart kept crying out to God. I loved this man. I had pledged to spend my life with him. Did the “for worse” part have to come so soon?

The psychiatric nurse came in and did an evaluation. After determining that Chris was clinically depressed, she asked him if he genuinely felt that he was a danger to himself or to anyone else. If he did, then she would admit him, but she didn’t think that he needed that. Chris thought he would be okay. I assured her that he wouldn’t be alone. Under orders to see our doctor as early as possible the next morning, we reconnected with my family. My mom told us that we’d be sleeping at their house. Under any other circumstances, I might have bridled at being ordered about.

Looking back, I see my desperation as the real turning point. I could not fix my husband. I could not solve this problem. I had known more than a few people who dealt with depression. I’d even had one friend kill himself at the tender age of 18. This was bigger than me. This was beyond me.

Perhaps we begin to see God when we actively look for Him. The questions didn’t go away – but answers came. Mysterious checks arrived in the mail, one from the cell phone company, one from the power company. Just the right amount to cover the hospital bill and the initial counseling sessions. Chris had little difficulty adjusting to the antidepressants and only missed a couple days of work. I watched him cling to the hope that God was good and that He had a plan. This fueled my own thirst.

I knew what the Psalmist meant when he had described himself as a parched deer. My soul ached for God. This was the step of faith (for both of us), the decision to move from head knowledge to heart devotion. That one, honest, “Please, Jesus!” That one small movement forward. I, the stereotypical prodigal, found myself embraced by the Father who had long been watching for my return home. He ran toward me when I had not the strength or the sense to be the one doing the running.

God will not meet our expectations. He will blow past them. He will take every stubborn demand for evidence or proof and reveal Himself in a way that we cannot, or perhaps should not, deny. We wonder why our lives are marked by pain if God is so good. How many of us are too stubborn, too prideful, to bend the knee to God without the very pain that He allows?

My own head has been far too thick and my heart too hard.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here.

Hello There

Hi

Gentle Reader,

It’s amazing how quickly this break has gone by. I’d like to say it was because I was having immeasurable amounts of fun, but the reality is that I spent quite a lot of time coming and going. My companion in this travel? Doctors. Just shy of two weeks ago, I had my gallbladder removed. Despite several tests coming back negative for problems, pain persisted (and worsened), so the surgeon decided it was best to get it out of there. And it was. A 2 millimeter stone was blocking one of the ducts (considering that the ducts are 1 millimeter in diameter, this was an issue) and the other ducts were twisted and misshapen. This little organ attached to the liver was never going to get better on its own.

Recovery hasn’t been awful, though I don’t recommend popping in of an afternoon and having an organ removed, no matter how small. The worst part has been my inability to use the prescribed painkillers, as they made me sick. (I’ll spare you the gory details). My belly button, sadly, will never be the same again and I look like I was shot three times in the abdomen. I’ll no doubt have some pretty amazing scars by the time all is said and done. Still, I’d rather have scars than excruciating pain every time I eat.

That’s not all that happened during the Great Blogging Hiatus of 2012, however. In no particular or significant order, here are some things I learned:

1. Sometimes the words won’t come.

I fully expected to journal like mad during Lent, thinking that I would surely need some sort of creative outlet. I think I wrote twice, maybe three times in my little notebook. At first, this unnerved me. If you consider yourself a writer of any sort, you expect to have words. You love words. They are your gloriously varied colors with which to fill the blank canvas with the mocking, blinking cursor. If you don’t have words, what do you have? I’m certainly not a speaker. I’d much rather do all communicating by email, but nobody wants to cooperate with me in that.

This lack of words turned out to be a good thing. While I continue to doubt my suitability for any type of speech-making, I found myself battling through the tongue-tied anxiety that continually plagues me. I said things. Important things, silly things. Sometimes just groans. I yelled at God once. I apologized later.

Sometimes the words won’t come out onto the page, but they will come out via the tongue. That’s scary – and necessary.

2. You can’t force reconciliation. 

The Lord is in the business of reconciliation and restoration. I’m pretty sure He invented the ideas. As His child, there have been multiple times when I’ve been prompted by the Spirit to reach out to someone I just really didn’t want to reach out to. (That’s how I know when something is from God – when it’s definitely not my idea). I don’t like conflict and I like the messy business of repair even less. I have, however, had largely positive experiences in this arena.

Until now.

I had a falling out with someone awhile back, and we haven’t spoken in over two years. I have no delusions as to what reconciliation would look like. I don’t expect to be close friends or even friends at all. What I would like is to be able to associate with this person in a loving way, especially since we have mutual friends. I’d like to not feel hot with fear and run the other direction when I see this person in the store. So, I sent out a little note. Nothing major. Just a, “It’s been a long time and I would like to reconnect.”

No response.

You can’t make other people participate in the process of reconciliation. I think that’s partly what Paul meant when he wrote that we are to be at peace with all people (Romans 12:18). I’ve done all that I can; all that God wants me to do. I can be at peace with this person, even if it is not reciprocated.

3. Love grows.

I love Chris more today than I did all those weeks ago. He patiently took me to every doctor’s appointment his schedule would allow, and if he couldn’t be there, made sure I wasn’t alone. He held my hand and prayed with me right up to the moment the nurse wheeled me into the operating room. His was the first face I saw when I came into recovery. He didn’t once make fun of me for sleeping with the two stuffed animals I carried over from childhood. He set his alarm and got up every four hours to feed me saltines and painkillers. He held my hair back when I couldn’t keep those saltines and painkillers down.

My man is amazing. I see Jesus in him every time he assures me that we’ll be taken care of, no matter what the check register says. I see him working to put aside his own fears, knowing that I need encouragement. I literally cannot imagine my life with anyone else, and don’t even want to try.

4. Casseroles and cards come from the heart.

I don’t even begin to know how to thank my church family for bringing us dinner, for the cards that arrived in the mail and the prayers I know were sent to the Throne Room on my behalf. We’re not a perfect family. In fact, we’re pretty dysfunctional. That’s what makes the love we have for each other and the grace that is given all the more amazing.

5. There is something about family.

A few days after my surgery, we went to my parent’s house as we usually do for Sunday dinner. I was still pretty out of it and in a lot of pain. It felt so good to lay on the couch and know that Mom, Dad and my brother, Ben, were all nearby. This family isn’t perfect, either, but I feel safe there. I can show up without makeup, hobble down the stairs and cry ’cause it hurts – and that’s okay. Nobody minds.

6. A public platform is a powerful thing.

It is fearsome to be a blogger. I never know who might be reading these thoughts of mine. That can be a heady thing – tracking site statistics, engaging in comment conversation, looking for just the right “hook.” While none of these things are wrong in themselves, I became acutely aware of how easy it would be to use this site in a God-dishonoring way. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have very few. I can’t fix anyone’s life. If I use this little corner of the Internet to promote myself… Well, I hope that’s the day my laptop explodes.

I’m not kidding. Everyone’s got an opinion, a thought, an idea. I want to point you to the One whose opinions, thoughts and ideas really matter. Without Him, I am nothing.

7a. Memorizing Scripture actually works.

I’d like to say I’m bad at memorization, but the truth is that I just don’t. It’s a matter of laziness. After going through such a difficult Autumn, I made memorizing Scripture one of my goals for 2012. Those words have become a lifeline.

I have long struggled with having assurance when it comes to salvation. This stems from my perfectionism and anxiety, to be sure. Having seen far too many Dateline specials about surgery screw-ups, I was deeply afraid of dying on the table – and ending up in Hell. As panic began to set in, I felt the Lord speak to my spirit. Would I choose to trust the words I had put into my heart? Would I rest in the words that I have poured over, picked apart and studied? Would I believe that the blood of Christ really is enough?

It would be nice if I could tell you that my response was easy, but I wrestled. Would He really be with me in that operating room? Would He really accept me into His arms if the end of my time had come?

7b. It’s my choice.

There are very few things in life that I can control, but one of those things is my reaction. I can say “yes.” I can say “no.” I can freak out or access the calmness of God. I can do things my own way or seek His wisdom. It’s my choice.

Lying on that hospital bed, listening to my husband pray, it dawned on me that I had to choose. Faith really isn’t just a one-time decision. It’s a moment-by-frightening-moment deal. So, with a deep breath, I told God, “Okay. I trust You. I trust that You have saved me and that You will be with me. I won’t worry. I am persuaded. You are strong.”

I had to choose. It’s a mind-stretching and heart-wrenching thing sometimes. I came through the surgery and I believe that I would have been welcomed into Heaven had I not, but the journey’s not over. There are mounting medical bills and it’s not entirely clear how we will make the house payment this month. Again I will have to choose whether to give in to the fear or allow God’s strength to enable me to stand and do battle.

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