Monday, January 31, 2011

Theology of Glory Fail: Funeral Edition

Look up the theology of glory in the thesaurus and you might just find the word fail under the list of possible synonyms.  There are many things a theology of glory can do for you: fill an emotional vacuum (for a while) with optimistic flattery, satisfy a yearning for spiritual experience (at least until you have to come down from the mountain-top), and improve your self-esteem and self-worth (looking at your own works and not Christ's), not to mention create a frenzied music atmosphere that would rival Metallica (where the focal point is the drums and the screen not Christ Crucified) - and all in the name of relevance, mission and being authentic.  But there's one thing (actually one of many) I've found that the theology of glory cannot accommodate: death.  And more specifically comfort in the face of death.  Theology of glory and memorial services are about as antonym as you get.  Those who have been hoodwinked by the attractiveness of a theology of glory (and you don't even know it until you've left it) don't know how to handle death - what to do with it, how to behave, how to speak words of comfort in the midst of it.  Perhaps that's part of the reason why so many people had extreme emotional responses to Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ a few years back.  But I digress.

Funerals are hard enough to attend, let alone memorial services for children.  Theoden of Rohan was right, fathers aren't supposed to bury their children.  It's moments like those that you realize there is something deeply marred in this world - not just bad, as I heard from the pastor - but deadly and dark.  The word sin doesn't even begin to capture the ugliness.  Memorial services are not celebrations of life; we don't gather to honor their memory or praise what the person has done (save that for the reception) - that is a theology of glory.

He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.  Death is a damn shame - and that is the theology of the cross - calling a thing like it is.  This is not the way the Lord created life to be.  He created us to live forever (thankfully this pastor did get that right).  Sin is death and death is damnation but Christ has conquered both, for you.  But you will not hear much of this at a theology of glory funeral. Instead you will hear things like this: things were messed up and Jesus comes to make them better - True, but how?  The Law assumed is the Law avoided.  And the Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied.   Instead what I heard was, "we're here to celebrate life and memory and what this person has done...tell stories, eat and play video games...yea this is unconventional...this is for the kids and if you don't like it, deal with it." 

The most amazing thing of all is that the Gospel was still to be found - John 14 and Romans 8 were read.  John 3:16 was quoted.  That was the amazing thing, even in the face of a man's best attempt at making a theology of glory comforting in the midst of tragedy (which it is not).  Thankfully, Christ's Word of healing was still heard even if just for few minutes.  Today's real tragedy, however, was not what the pastor said: "God can work good out of any tragedy (true)...and this day would be a tragedy if you left here without knowing how to get to heaven."  That would be a tragic. But the greatest tragedy is what the pastor didn't say.  So you can work a mic stand...but can you proclaim the Gospel in the face of tragic death?  The theology of glory cannot; it has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.  Crux sola est nostra theologia - the cross alone is our theology.   To the Scriptures, my friends:

   Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.  Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.  Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.  Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:  And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?  She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.  And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.  As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.  Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.  The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.  Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.  When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.  And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.  Jesus wept.  Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!  And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?  Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.  Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.  Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?  Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.  And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.  And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. 

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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