Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The External Word

I identify a lot with Martin Luther in a few ways -the largest of which being his internal struggles with scruples, depression, and just a crushed conscience and darkened faith when it seems that God has all but hid himself. There is no joy, no hope, no grace, no bliss -just confusion, darkness, crawling, scraping, climbing, but to no avail. There is the desire to be Christ's, a desperate unquenchable need, yet it seems as though the light has been turned out and He cannot be seen. I have learned much through my times like these, even though they are horrible. One of the things I learned (or perhaps I should say, "constantly re-learn") is the reality of what Luther called the "external Word".

John Piper comments:

"Luther calls it the 'external Word' to emphasize that it is objective, fixed, outside ourselves, and therefore unchanging. It is a Book. Neither ecclesiastical hierarchy nor fanatical ecstasy can replace it or shape it. It is "external," like God. You can take or leave it. But you can't make it other than what it is. It is a book with fixed letters and words and sentences. And Luther said with resounding forcefulness in 1545, the year before he died, 'Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture'." (article here)

I say that I "re-learn" it because I am so prone to what I call "internalization". It is almost as though a layer grows on top of the Word, on top of God's promises, and my subsistence attaches to that instead over time. It is a thin layer, but a layer still, and it is almost undetectable. It happens when I suddenly switch from rejoicing in the promises of God to looking for that sweet taste, that rejoicing, itself. I look and look, but it does not come -only terror comes. The more I look, the more terrified I become -which only makes my task all the more impossible. Without actually seeing it, I am looking for something other than the plain Word of God. I am looking for, climbing for, searching for something within.

It becomes very hard emotionally to break away from this. I try to run back to some of my favorite passages for relief, but they bring none. It is like I have an expectation that they would bring me out of it, and so I expect a level of relief with anticipation and anxiety that, by almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, will not come. It leads only to more discouragement. It is as though the Word becomes a sealed book. Its words come, bounce off me, and fall to the earth. I read it, but there is no rejoicing in the truth itself. And why? It is because I have forgotten somewhere that this is the external Word. I am looking for something in addition to it, something subjective, and basing it all upon it. I do not just read it to read it and know it is true and glorify God. I read it to expect something else. My confidence has become confidence in my confidence rather than in the objective truthfulness of God's Word.

When I drop this expectation and requirement of "right feeling" or whatever you want to call it and remember that this is the external Word, my feet begin on the path back from darkness. It is the realization, again, that I am looking to and depending upon something other than His Word.

Your truth, O God, has not changed and does not change - just because I am timid and not seeing myself to be confident in it or gripped by it. It doesn't change, the external Word. It means what it means despite if I am happy or sad today, joyful or despairing, full of faith or covered in blindness and darkness. It is that gracious, perfect, unfailing external Word.

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