Thursday, February 21, 2008

E.R., the Glory, the Cross, and the Hammer

Thanks to my friend, colleague, and former classmate, the Rev. David Juhl for posting this.

The Theology of Glory is a term coined by Martin Luther nearly 500 years ago for what is today sometimes called "name it and claim it" theology or the "health and wealth gospel." You'll find this approach to the Christian faith by all the usual suspects - the megarich TV preachers and "miracle-working" hucksters telling you that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy (not to mention God wants you to buy their book telling you how God wants you to be healthy and wealthy in seven easy steps, as well as how God wants them to have a private jet and several mansions - not to mention a Mercedes or eight). One of the sixteenth century's famous "televangelists" was the indulgence-hawker John Tetzel, the Dominican preacher who used the Theology of Glory to raise lots of money to build St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and pay off the Vatican's extensive loans. Even without a satellite network, Fr. Tetzel was quite the showman.

But the reality of this life is quite different. We live in a fallen world. We live under the cross. We have problems. We struggle with finances. We get things like cancer. We die. Life in this world is not all peaches and cream - not for our Lord Jesus Christ, not for the original apostles, not for saints like Job and Paul, and not for the myriads of faithful martyrs who suffered persecution for the holy faith, taking up their crosses to follow our Blessed Lord. Dr. Luther called this reality the Theology of the Cross. You'll find this approach to the Christian faith in the Bible.

We pastors (I don't mean the phony ones on TV or with the big book deals) serve people under the cross day by day. People are abandoned by their spouses, their children rebel, they struggle with drugs, they wrestle with serious illnesses and chronic pain. In this life (as opposed to the fantasy life of private jets, mansions, and celebrity), bad things happen. There are hurricanes, fires, floods, and epidemics. There is bitterness, fear, hurt, and grief. Violence and strife are staples in this life. In fact, all of us are on a crash course with death itself.

It is on the deathbed that all the nonsense stops. There, The Seven Steps to a Richer You With Whiter Teeth and Fatter Wallets doesn't get a lot of traction. Pastors (the real ones) are with people as they struggle with their own crosses. And it is only the Theology of the Cross, the presence of our Lord even in (and especially in) suffering that brings comfort even in the face of our own mortality.

New Age platitudes and other wishy-washy psychobabble (beautifully demonstrated by the actress in the clip) don't cut it. The patient's reaction is as real as it gets. Only the cross of Jesus can bring comfort when we face our own crosses - especially death itself. The patient sought atonement for sins, not therapy for bad feelings.

If you want to see a similar contrast between the Theology of Glory (which fails miserably at the hands of a clueless young pastor armed with nothing but Glory) and the Theology of the Cross (which succeeds by way of an wise elderly woman layman who truly understands the implications of the Cross), you can read it in the opening chapter of the Hammer of God, a somewhat autobiographical novel of spiritual care written by a now-sainted Lutheran bishop from Sweden named Go Giertz.

There is also a movie version of Hammer, though there are no excepts on YouTube. It is available for purchase from Lutheran Visuals. It magnificently captures the historical feel and the Cross Theology of the book.

As Bishop Giertz's tombstone reads: "Verbum crucis Dei virtus" (which, in his native language is: "Talet om korset Guds kraft," or as we would say: "The word of the cross is the power of God," from 1 Cor 1:18).

1 comment:

Brian P Westgate said...

Just got done reading the holy bishop's Stengrunden in Field Ed I. What a book, and theologically sound, accurately reporting what people will think on their own due to Pietism, Rationalism, Deism, etc., and what the Evangelical-Lutheran Church believes. I'm also reading every Sunday his little preaching book put out last year by Lutheran Legacy.