Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Hammer of God

I had the treat of reading The Hammer of God, by Bo Giertz, while we traveled to and from Kansas City. It is historical fiction, which is my favorite genre; I give it a hearty thumbs up! The author, a prolific writer, was a former atheist who became a pastor and bishop in Sweden in the 20th century, although his influence on Lutherans worldwide continues today. It is divided into three distinct, yet complimentary stories: "The Hammer of God", "Jesus Only", and "On This Rock". They all take place in Sweden, from early 19th century to mid 20th century. In a nutshell, the book tells the story of 3 new pastors working hard at their vocations, confronting sin and complacency in their congregations and ultimately in themselves. Yet, it is not another hero story talking about the valiant efforts of these pastors to whip their congregations into a model of Christian piety. This is a book that confronts us all with our inability to please God with our own efforts. What does that mean for a pastor, who brings the Word of God and Sacraments to his congregation, who is far from the ideal that he preaches? Is he doomed to become a hypocrite? Does he need to try harder to be counted among the obedient? Or will he be left in utter despair? The author knits together a masterful story about the hardness of our sinful hearts, and the “Hammer of God”, His Law which breaks all pretense of having a special standing before God based on our accomplishments. Then, we are truly ready to receive the Gospel, which is the good news that Christ has lived the righteous life for us, taken our sins upon Himself, and paid for them with His blood. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but here is an excerpt from the book, when one pastor is talking to another:

Do you believe that Christ died only for the sins you committed before you became spiritually concerned? He would hardly have needed to die for them-you could put them away by your own strength. That you begin your day with the Bible instead of with Moliere, ….-that is only picking burrs from your coat, something you can get rid of yourself. But the corruption of sin is something that you cannot put away yourself. For this you need a Redeemer, one who suffers in your place; for otherwise you might as well give up every thought of heaven right now. Pg. 100

We have thundered like the storm, we have bombarded with the heaviest mortars of God’s law in an attempt to break down the walls of sin. And that was surely right. I still load my gun with the best powder when I aim at unrepentance. But we had almost forgotten to let the sunshine of the gospel shine through the clouds. Our method has been to destroy all carnal security by our volleys, but we have left it to the souls to build something new with their own resolutions and their own honest attempts at amending their lives. In that way, Henrik, it is never finished. We have not become finished ourselves. Now I have instead begun to preach about that which is finished, about that which was built on Calvary and which is a safe fortress to come to when the thunder rolls over our sinful heads. And now I always apportion the Word of God in three directions, not only to the self-satisfied and the believers as I did formerly, but also to the awakened, the anxious, the heavy-laden, and to the poor in spirit. And I find strength each day for my own poor heart at the fount of redemption. Pg. 103

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