While studying for a course final at Fuller Seminary, I stumbled across a great devotional nugget in a surprising place: my lecture notes from a class in Medieval and Reformation Theology! Our professor was discussing how Martin Luther saw the hiddenness of God within revelation, as well as outside of it. Luther argued that, quite plainly, revelation does not often look like revelation: a fragile baby does not look like an all-powerful God, and the violence of the cross certainly looks nothing like glory! These â€œfestivals of humiliationâ€, the incarnation and the crucifixion, demonstrate how concealed or shrouded Godâ€™s revelation can truly be for us and for our world.
Our professor then illustrated the point with this provocative statement: What if, instead of â€œmajestyâ€, we sung these words in our worship services: â€œPoverty, worship His povertyâ€¦â€ How would doing this transform the way we think about our churches, our Christian witness, our own discipleship?
I am reminded anew of the surprising ways we encounter God as God enters our world in hiddenness. I confess that too often I am in danger of missing the glory of God precisely because I do not want to admit that my God is a God of soiled diapers and bloody trees. Whether it is my own suffering or that of my neighbors, I find myself quietly yearning for heresy: for a God who is a stranger to pain; for good news of â€œhealth and wealthâ€ rather than that of a crucified Lord.
I am reminded here of one of my husbandâ€™s favorite quotations by Nicholas Wolterstorff:
â€œIt is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it means that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is his splendor.â€
I am also reminded of a line from one of my favorite songs:
â€œAnd the earth trembled beneath the weight
of a father whose only son
hung ragged and royal on the throne
of his kingdom.â€
This past week, I have found myself walking the streets of my neighborhood with the opening lines of Psalm 22 on my lips:
â€My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.â€
As I have prayed these words for myself and for the sisters and brothers I call neighbor, the words of the psalmist have emboldened me to consider how welcome is our suffering in the throne room of heaven. As I have the opportunity to invite those who are struggling with very real physical needs to draw near to Jesus, I can be confident that the ways that they are socially and physically lost do not place them at a distance from our Lord. Rather, in the very despair of their lives, they become even more his sisters and brothers for the psalmistâ€™s words of anguish were Jesusâ€™ own liturgy as he wrestled the forsakenness of his death.
It is my hope for my church that we would truly experience something of Martin Lutherâ€™s â€œhidden God.â€ It is my prayer that as we engage the unique needs of a little corner of South L.A. with the good news of a crucified Lord we would become a people who could sing, with hearts that are glad: Poverty. Worship His poverty.