Friday, September 19, 2008

Moist Tackiness

The reliably tacky ELCA lighted sign near my home in St. Louis said something like this in the last week or two, time-appropriate for Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike...

GULF COAST: WHEN YOU PASS THROUGH THE WATERS, I WILL BE WITH YOU

How can one quibble with the words of Isaiah 43:2? Watch me!

Who is this sign really addressing? How is the Gulf Coast supposed to read this sign? Or does this sign rather serve a smug sense of our own care, compassion, and similar merits? How, really, does this sentiment help people on the Gulf Coast? Even if we could send this message to them, how would platitudes plucked from the pages of Scripture comfort people who have already "passed through the waters," whether or not they realized God was with them at the time? Do greeting card messages rebuild homes, replace lost possessions, and get the lights turned back on?

This, in my opinion, is the kind of cold comfort that church people find too easy to give: cold, because it has nothing to do with the Gospel. It is in the same vein as squeezing the hand of someone whose loved one has just died and murmuring, "It was God's will." In an encounter like that, a flesh-and-blood mourner would be tempted to say, "Bully for God! Next time He comes around I'll tell Him where He can stick His will!"

Could the ELCA sign have addressed the Gulf Coast situation better? I think so. It could have urged passersby to pray for the victims of hurricane damage. It could have sobered them with biblical reminders that these disturbances in nature are a reminder that our world is in its death-throes, awaiting the Day of Resurrection. It could have encouraged them with reminders of God's promise not to destroy mankind with a flood. It could have invited passersby to contribute their pocket change toward a relief campaign. Or it could have simply preached the Gospel (maybe even quoting Isaiah 43:2) without pointlessly addressing it to the absent, powerless people of the Gulf Coast: "...and through the rivers, they will not overflow you."

Test that sentiment against the current floods that have lately turned my commute to work into an insane maze of back roads. This is stuff the people right here in St. Louis need to hear now. When God's creation shows us how powerless we are, we need to be comforted by word that God loves and protects us, that He brought His saving power to bear in the weakness of the man Jesus, that when we were powerless slaves of sin (Romans 5:6) He rescued us and evacuated us to the safe refuge of His kingdom (Colossians 1:12), and that the very flood that once wiped out nearly all of mankind was also the flood by which God saved a chosen remnant, so that every flood is now a reminder of how God saves us through the water of Baptism (1 Peter 3:21). So how about: "I CALLED OUT OF MY DISTRESS TO THE LORD, AND HE ANSWERED ME" (Jonah 2:2)?

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