God's Alien Work
Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr
17 October 2018
Where does suffering come from? In one way, it doesn't matter. Whether trouble comes upon us through the malice of Satan, the hatred of the world or the alien work of God sending His wrath upon us in the holy law, all these things force us to see beyond our reason and experience to God's proper work through the gospel. Suffering sent by God is not God's full purpose. He does not send suffering merely to hurt us or to satisfy a perverse desire to see us suffer, as Gloucester in Shakespeare's King Lear grumbles, "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; / They kill us for their sport" (Shakespeare, King Lear, Act iv, sc. 1, 44). No, this is merely the perversity of "wanton boys," who well reflect human fallenness, not the will of a gracious God who offers up His Son for us, nor God's full purpose.
Our God sends us trouble to force us to trust Him and see beyond the seen. Things like hurricanes are signs from God. But signs of what? They are signs of many things. They bring suffering to us that we might see beyond our suffering to God's greater suffering in Christ. They show us our sin, that we might repent. They show us that we are not in charge of the world and masters of the universe, and that, no, God is (yes, still!). They show us the pride of politicians who cannot stop the wind, the waves, and the flooding. They show us our own foolishness that we depend on those same foolish politicians and their government more than on God our heavenly Father. A hurricane is not a sign, but many signs, pointing to the evil of the world, God's authority, and forcing us to seek His gracious mercy in Christ. The alien work of God drives us into the proper work of God.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"Discipline which we receive at the hands of others is when men or devils cause us suffering, as when our property is taken, our body is sick, and our honor is taken away; when everything moves us to anger, impatience, and unrest. For the work of God rules in us according to his wisdom and not according to our judgment; according to his purity and chastity, and not according to the will of our flesh. God's work is wisdom and purity, but our work is folly and impurity. It is these that we must cause to rest. So, then, we should be ruled by his peace and not by our anger, our impatience, or our unrest. For peace, too, is the work of God, but impatience is the work of our flesh. It is the works of the flesh that must rest and be made dead, so that we celebrate a spiritual holiday everywhere, let our own good works be idle, and let God work in us.
"Therefore, to destroy such works of ours as well as the old Adam in us, God overwhelms us with those things which move us to anger, with many sufferings which rouse us to impatience, and last of all, even with death and the abuse of all the world. By means of these he seeks nothing else but to drive out of us anger, impatience, and unrest, and to perfect his own work in us, that is, his peace. Therefore, Isaiah says, 'The LORD will rise up...to do his deed-strange is his deed! and to work his work-alien is his work' (Is 28:21)! What does that mean? He sends us suffering and unrest to teach us to have patience and peace. He bids us die that he may make us live. He does this as long as and until a man, thoroughly trained, reaches such a pitch of peace and poise that he is no longer upset whether things go well or ill with him, whether he dies or lives, whether he is honored or dishonored. [In such a man] only God himself dwells; there there are no works of man. This is what it means to observe the day of rest and keep it holy. It is then that a man ceases to rule his own life, then that he desires nothing for himself, then that nothing disturbs him: God himself leads him. It is then that there is nothing but godly happiness, joy, and peace, and all other works and virtues as well."

Martin Luther, Treatise on Good Works, 22
Isaiah 28:21-29

For the LORD will rise up as on Mount Perazim; as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused; to do his deed-strange is his deed! and to work his work-alien is his work! Now therefore do not scoff, lest your bonds be made strong; for I have heard a decree of destruction from the Lord GOD of hosts against the whole land.
Give ear, and hear my voice; give attention, and hear my speech. Does he who plows for sowing plow continually? Does he continually open and harrow his ground? When he has leveled its surface, does he not scatter dill, sow cumin, and put in wheat in rows and barley in its proper place, and emmer as the border? For he is rightly instructed; his God teaches him.
Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin, but dill is beaten out with a stick, and cumin with a rod. Does one crush grain for bread? No, he does not thresh it forever; when he drives his cart wheel over it with his horses, he does not crush it. This also comes from the LORD of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom. (ESV)
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, because You desire not the death of a sinner but rather that he should turn from his evil way and live, graciously turn away from us the punishments which we by our sins have deserved and which have been borne for us by our Lord Jesus Christ, and grant us ever to serve You in holiness and pureness of living; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For Joyce Burrows, Lois Vaughn, Carl and Gladys Ferm, Ed Jutzi, Helen Weaver, Anita Markwardt, Rita Baker, Marie Hoyer, Lucille Herter, and all shut-in persons, that they would be comforted by the word of God and strengthened in their faith
For the people in the areas devastated by hurricanes, that they would be enabled to serve their communities and neighborhoods in love and that useful businesses would be enabled to provide employment again to people in need of gainful employment
For all pregnant mothers and families with newborn children, that God would keep them safe and give them joy in the gift of children
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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