Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Falsehood and Condemnation of Man

1. The True Witness
Our being and action as sinners is exposed without exception by Jesus Christ. Our sinful falsehood in particular is exposed by Jesus Christ as the one true witness to God’s justifying and sanctifying grace. Sin as falsehood is the absurd obstacle we place between ourselves and the prophetic work of Jesus Christ as the one Mediator between God and us. Sin as falsehood is the darkness we oppose to the light of Christ and in which we attempt to conceal ourselves from God, from others, and most of all from ourselves. Falsehood includes all our efforts to conceal our pride and sloth but is not exhausted by them. It is our own false word by which we oppose God’s Word. Jesus Christ justified us, sanctified us, and reveals that reconciliation to us through his Word. In ridiculous imitation, the devil attempts to falsify these in pride and sloth and to cover over that falsification with lies.

Jesus Christ comes to us as the true witness because free God and free man meet in him alone. This twofold freedom and relationship constitute the “pure form” in which Jesus Christ exists. But Jesus Christ does not directly reveal himself, and we do not directly know him, in this pure form. Instead, he meets us and speaks with us in the form of one who suffers.

This is appropriate for three reasons. First, his life consisted concretely in suffering, being crucified, dying, and being buried. So he rightly reveals himself to us as God’s suffering servant. This Word of the cross, however, is what strikes Greeks as foolishness, Jews as a stumbling block, and therefore exposes the falsehood in all of us. Second, Jesus Christ reveals himself, and we only know him, in the alien form of suffering servant because the world in which he works and we live is still moving forward from his resurrection to his definitive return. Even as he continues to shine more brightly as the light of life, the resistance of the darkness grows more desperately intense. Finally, because we ourselves remain sinners even as Christians, and therefore corrupt, miserable, and condemned, Jesus Christ continues his prophetic work among us in his pure form hidden beneath all our suffering which he has taken upon himself.

Just as Jesus Christ is wholly divine and wholly human, without separation or confusion, so too Jesus Christ is both revealed sufferer and concealed victor, the Crucified One who reigns at God’s right hand, the slain lamb who is priest forever. It is because he is this alone that he alone speaks to us the Word of God as the one true witness to God. Only the words of Christ crucified are the Word of God because only his words break the silence of death. Only his words have this miraculous form. Second, his words are God’s Word because he alone can and does speak of God’s act of reconciliation accomplished in his death. But Jesus Christ not only speaks God’s Word about God’s work. He speaks God’s Word about God himself because, in his death on the cross, Jesus Christ actually revealed God’s very own nature as the one who loves freedom. Only the words of Christ crucified have this miraculous content as well. Finally, only Christ crucified can and does speak the truth that God himself was not an aloof spectator of his death but suffered with him as the Father with the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

We humans find it extremely difficult to have anything to do with a God whose truth is a crucified Christ. But this is the one form in which God has chosen to reveal himself to us. So if we are ready to hear from God about God, and to be disciplined by his instruction, we must abandon all notions of finding God through some lofty flight. Christ crucified tells us we will find God at the point of our greatest need.

2. The Falsehood of Man
Motivated by fear and incapable of victory, falsehood is our movement to evade an encounter initiated by Jesus Christ. Our most artful dodging of truth is done by using as much of it as possible, even becoming its champion, thereby asserting mastery over it rather than subordinating ourselves to service of it. Consequently we must expect to encounter falsehood in a Christian form, and where we find a particularly weighty Christianity we will doubtlessly encounter it. Worse, because falsehood makes as much use as possible of truth, falsehood will also take on much of truth’s radiance.

Only Jesus Christ exposes falsehood without fail. And always Jesus Christ distinguishes himself from all falsehood. We too may be freed to distinguish between truth and falsehood by listening to Christ’s voice and obeying his Word.

When Jesus Christ encounters us, of what are we afraid? Why do we attempt to counter his truth with our falsehood? It is because we loathe the identity of Jesus Christ and the truth. This identity means we cannot know the truth without being confronted personally by Jesus Christ and so embroiled in an inescapable and profound relationship over which we have no control. Falsehood is our attempt to remain in control by severing this identity between the truth and Jesus Christ.

What makes this identity particularly repugnant is that it binds the truth to Christ crucified. To obey it is to recognize him alone as savior of the world and to involve ourselves in suffering we could otherwise easily avoid. In our falsehood we pretend that the truth of reconciliation depends upon our own heroic efforts to establish peace and social justice or that we may know the truth without any suffering at all.

This identity of the truth with the one true witness also means that when the Word of truth comes to us, it comes with the irresistible power of the Holy Spirit. God’s gracious command summons our grateful obedience. We cannot imagine the occurrence of such graciousness nor admit the need for such gratitude. The inequality of our relationship with God offends our democratic sensibilities. So we flatten the distinction between Jesus Christ and other people and regard his truth as generally accessible to all with or without him.

God freely loves us and in doing so frees us to love him, to be free for him, to freely obey him, in response. But we would rather remain in control of our relationship with him. We would rather remain “free to choose” between obedience and disobedience. So we employ falsehood. This enables us to imagine God as an impersonal if supreme being and ourselves as imperfect but sufficiently good people in matters moral and religious.

With regard to common lies, if we prefer our own falsehood to the truth of Christ, we will certainly prefer our own imagination and convenience to accuracy.

3. The Condemnation of Man
As the true witness, Jesus Christ tells us that in him we died as sinners and became children of God liberated for God. What we foolishly attempt to do through falsehood is to change this divine pardon into the divine condemnation we otherwise deserve. Falsehood is our attempt to deny God’s free grace and to reject our free gratitude in response. Falsehood is our attempt to deny any need for the mediation of Jesus Christ. But in our assertion of this falsehood, we live as the sinners God put to death in Jesus Christ. In living the lie, we live as those ultimately rejected by God at the cross. We doom ourselves to lives of self-destruction which can end logically only in eternal death.

But despite the fact that we give form to falsehood, the truth remains true. Moreover, Jesus Christ as the truth continues his irresistible attack against falsehood. He continues to spoil even our most prodigious illusions. As God’s grace, he keeps awakening us from our nightmares. Consequently he continues to limit both our falsehood and the self-destruction we suffer in pursuing it.

So the question is, will God’s limitation of our falsehood finally save even us comatose Christians from the eternal death which now threatens us? First, if God did save us, it would be pure grace. To count on it would be to deny the evil of our current attempt to deny the grace of God already hounding us. Even so, we cannot deny the possibility that the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ might include the salvation of all people from damnation for eternal life. The limits placed even now by truth on our falsehood and self-destructiveness point in this direction. Let us hope and pray that in the end God’s love prevails.

Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.
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