Saturday, December 26, 2015

'The Priority of God'

On the first day of Christmas, here again is The Interpreter's Bible--this time about Luke 2:14 ...

Mark the order of the two halves of the great proclamation:

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

Peace among men is the climax of life's great hope, but it is not the beginning. The beginning is the adoration of God himself. Our betterment cannot come from human schemes; it must come from God.

That is a truth which men in modern times can too readily forget. There is a flood of books allegedly telling how people may manipulate themselves so that they will feel at peace. They are to wind themselves up by a kind of windlass made of clever psychological ropes and cogs to a level of consciousness where they will feel better. Even churches may unwittingly be affected by the assumption that salvation from trouble and distress can be attained through our own devices. Well-meaning congregations, in what was meant to be a united movement of religion, in a certain region put up placards: "Come to church and find yourself." But the true message must strike a deeper note than that: "Come to church and find God and be found by God." The whole message of the N.T. is built upon gratitude for God's prevenient grace. Men must open their minds and hearts in thankfulness for what God has given in Christ before they can hope that the distracted elements within their lives will fall into place and so give them a peace that cannot be destroyed.

This same truth must be recognized not only in the area of the inner personality, but in men's efforts to make a better world in which to live. Humanism has suggested that a sufficient religion may be made out of the good impulses in ourselves projected into a large general beneficence which shall then deify, and think that it will automatically save us. Too many social workers have proceeded on the theory that religion in the old sense was unnecessary as long as people had kindly ideas toward their neighbors, and went out with a general program of clubs and classes and settlement house activities amiably conceived. They thought that we could get good will on earth and establish peace on earth without depending on any power higher than ourselves. Religion in its transcendent meaning must not be mentioned. Sociologically it was not good form.

We have learned better. We have learned, for one thing, that if we forget God, it is not so easy to exalt man and keep him exalted as we supposed. Without an infinite confidence grounded in something vaster than ourselves, how do we know that humanity is worth the long effort, so often laborious and unfruitful, so often frustrated, with which every attempted betterment of our world must reckon? If man is not the child of God, how do we know that he is any more worth saving than anything else which happens to emerge and flourish a little while and then die from off an accidental universe? How do we know that man is better than the amoeba, or better than the bacillus which may circulate in his blood? And even if we put all the questionings out of our mind and stubbornly assert that humanity is worth serving, just because we choose to believe that it is such, then nevertheless there also comes the moment when without religion our best and most unselfish energies may faint. For who is there who really wants to help his fellow man who does not come someday to the point when he sees that his own strength, yes, and the strength of all his co-workers, is inadequate to what he wants to do? He must call upon a mightier reliance if he is not to falter. He must believe that he is in touch with him to whom a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day. He must have caught from the Christian gospel something for his mind and heart which makes him able to say Glory to God in the highest, and in that glory he can go on to work and serve.

The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VIII. George Arthur Buttrick, ed. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1955) 55-56.

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