Impossible?
Monday after Transfiguration
4 March 2019

Perhaps you remember the old joke about the man who was his own grandfather. I am not sure how it goes, but suffice it to say, that its "humor" revolves around the impossible idea of being your own forebear. We know very well that the older must be the forebear of the younger. There are no counter-examples. Even the teacher of Israel, Nicodemus, asks mockingly, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" (Jn 3:4). It is impossible that the younger should give birth to the older, if a man could not even be born again. Nicodemus does not understand the power of God (Mt 22:29).

 

How shocking that we humans want to judge God's actions on the basis of our own experience. We have difficulty judging any number of phenomena in our daily experience. Take for example the problem of parallax in vision. For example, water appears to "bend" a straight yardstick when it is plunged into water. We have difficulty making sense of the traditions of other cultures. Judged against our own experience many of the traditions of others make no sense to us. We struggle to understand any number of historical phenomena. For example, what permitted people to countenance chattel slavery in the past; even people who were supposedly shaped by the worldview of the Christian Scriptures? Perceiving that this happened is not the same as understanding how people settled them in their own minds and set them within the context of their worldview. If nothing else, these examples should lead us to question our ability to use our experience to judge the actions and works of God. Fallible human experience is hardly an adequate yardstick with which to measure God's actions.

 

There are those who want to apply our limited experience and learning to limit God's actions and works. What we could never conceive of His having done, we presume He could not do. He would be such a pitiful God if He were constrained by our standards of what could be done by Him. First and foremost, we would presume that He could never save such a wretch as me! Once we start dictating to God, telling Him what He is capable of, we shall lose the message of salvation itself. Even to Job, who dickered with God, God replied, "Where were you when I created the world?" (Job 38:4). If the eternal Son, ancient of days cannot be conceived of His young mother, Mary, it is entirely unlikely that He has the power to save the world from its wretched sins. Ultimately, every heretical objection to the faith of the church is aimed at the heart of our salvation. Where God cannot do the impossible by our standards, it will be impossible that we should be saved. From this preserve us, dear Father in heaven!


Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

  John Cassian
"You say, 'No one gives birth to one older than herself.' Tell me then, I pray, of what cases are you speaking, for the nature of what creatures do you think that you can lay down rules? Do you suppose that you can fix laws for men, beasts, birds, or cattle? Those (and others of the same kind) are the things of which such assertions can be made. For none of them is able to produce one older than itself. For what has already been produced cannot return to it again so as to be born again by a new creation (Jn 3:4). No one can bear one older than herself, as no one can beget one older than himself. For the opportunity of bearing only results where there is the possibility of begetting.
 
"Do you then imagine that in reference to the nativity of Almighty God regard must be held to the same considerations as in the birth of earthly creatures? Do you bring the nature of man's conditions as a difficulty in the case of Him who is Himself the author of nature? You don't know what you are talking about if you are comparing creatures to the Creator. In order to calculate the power of God are you drawing an instance from those things that would never have existed at all, except for the fact that their existence comes from God (Rm 4:17)? God then came as He would, when He would, and of her whom He would. Neither time nor person, nor the manner of men, nor the pattern of creatures was any difficulty for Him. The law of the creatures could not stand in the way of Him who is Himself the Creator of them all.
 
"Whatever He desired to be possible was ready to His hand, for the power of willing it was His. Do you want to know how far the omnipotence of God extends, and how great it is? I believe that the Lord could do, even in the case of His creatures, what you do not believe that He could do in His own case. For all living creatures which now bear things younger than themselves could, if only God gave the word, bear things much older than themselves.
 
"For who can set a limit to divine works, or circumscribe divine providence? Who (to use the words of Scripture) can say to Him 'What are you doing?' (Rm 9:20; Is 45:9). If you deny that God can do all things, then deny, when God was born, that one older than Mary could be born of her. But if there is nothing impossible with God, why do you bring as an objection against His coming an impossibility, when you know that for Him nothing is impossible (Lk 1:37)?"

John Cassian,  
Seven Books on the Incarnation,
 7.2
Romans 4:13-17

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring- not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations"- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, though You existed before the world You were conceived in time and born into the world that You shaped as the divine speech speaking into being all things. Grant that we might not be deceived into misbelief by our own wretched experience. Free us from the constraints placed on us by our own limited view and immerse us in Your self-revelation that we might know You in truth. Ever vouchsafe to us the fruits of Your work that we might finally be saved by omnipotent work under the signs of humiliation and weakness. Amen.
 
For all Christian pastors, that they might avail themselves of the means of grace through confession and holy absolution, that their hearts might be salved and their consciences cleared by the same medicine which they themselves are dispensing to those in their care
 
For all those suffering from fear of the future in the hands of God, that they might see themselves in hands of grace
 
For Michael Koutsodontis, that the Lord Jesus would continue to grant him healing and strength according to His good and gracious will
 
For the members of the Floor Committees for the upcoming triennial convention of the LCMS, that the Lord Jesus would continue to bless and keep them
Art: RAFFAELLO Sanzio  The Transfiguration (1518-20)


Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2019
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
Sent by smurray@mlchouston.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact