The Mundane and the Almighty

Finding God in speech, a bath, and a meal. /

We keep looking for God in all the obvious places. Obvious, at least, to the natural eye. But God chooses to be present in blessing where he has promised, in the everyday means that are available to everyone and not just to the spiritual “storm trackers.” We don’t climb up into heaven or descend into the depths to find God. Christ is present where he has promised to be: that’s the argument Paul makes in Romans 10.

If our God is so keen to work in and through the ordinary, maybe we should rethink the way we confine him to theatrical spectacles, whether the pageantry of the Mass or the carefully staged healing crusade. It takes no honor away from God that he uses ordinary—even physical—means to bring about extraordinary results. On the contrary, it underscores the comprehensive breadth of his sovereignty over, in, and within creation as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

To be content with Christ’s kingdom is to be satisfied also with his ordinary means of grace. This is a big one. We have trouble believing that weak things like a fellow sinner speaking in Christ’s name, both judgment and forgiveness, could actually expand Christ’s kingdom throughout the earth. Sure there are sermons. We need good teachers. But surely a growing church needs something more impressive to catch people’s attention than the regular proclamation of and instruction in God’s Word. After all, it’s not by the preaching of the gospel but by living it that we draw people to Christ. Surely doing more in our community will make a larger impact than weekly prayers, especially prayers for the mundane concerns that are common to everyone. At the very least, we need to have sermons that focus on topics that our neighbors might find more helpful or interesting. And yet, our King tells us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17, esv used throughout). Through the lips of a fellow sinner, Christ judges, justifies, and renews us here and now. The verdict of the final judgment is actually rendered in the present through this speech.

It might not be a bad idea that we learn the faith through a catechism week after week or that we follow a liturgy that makes the word of Christ dwell in us richly. But it all becomes so routine. We need to break it up with powerful events with impressive staging. Or perhaps a new program. But Scripture repeatedly urges us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ by regular instruction in “the pattern of the sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13).

Baptism has its place. We may not be sure what it means, but we know that Jesus commanded it. A big part of the problem here is that we think of baptism as our work—testifying to our faith and promise to follow the Lord—rather than God’s testimony and promise-making to us that delivers Christ with all of his benefits. Could there not be a more dramatic way of entering Christ’s kingdom and making radical disciples? Hear Colossians 2:12: “having been buried with him in baptism … you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” God’s promise comes first, and then faith embraces it.

Then there is the Lord’s Supper. We may not have it often (so it doesn’t get old), but again, Jesus commanded it. Yet how could a morsel of bread and a sip of wine be more successful than spiritual disciplines or small groups inviting us to Christ and each other? Here, too, we think of the event more as an opportunity for us to do something—to recall Jesus’ death and to stir us to rededicate our lives to him—than God’s means of grace. If it’s chiefly about our activity, surely we could do something together that would be more successful in making Christ present and relevant in our lives and in our world. Hear 1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

In Scripture, miracles—God’s extraordinary works—cluster around fresh stages of redemptive history. They authenticate new stages of revelation. The miracles that he performed through our Lord as well as through the prophets and apostles are sufficient to establish the credibility of the new covenant that Jesus put into effect by his death. Above all, his resurrection is the climactic event that secures and signifies the dawn of the new creation. Of course, God can do as he wishes, and it is not wrong to pray for miracles. Yet we have no promise in Scripture that prayers will be answered in the way that we had hoped. We do have God’s promise that he will perform the greatest signs and wonders through the preaching of his Word and the administration of his sacraments.

Again, we are drawn to the theology of the Cross over against theologies of glory. The former is content to receive God as he discloses himself, in humility, poverty, and weakness. God reveals himself by hiding himself. He comes to us incognito, as a king dressed like a pauper, in order to serve us.

The rapid growth of life-saving and life-enhancing medicine is not a sign of God’s absence but of his daily care. The antidote to a naturalism that attributes healing ultimately to doctors and medicine is not to “expect a miracle” but to thank God for the myriad ways in which he has provided for us through the work of his own hands. We should marvel at God’s care, wisdom, and loving involvement in every detail of our lives.

Today, we have no further resurrections to certify the gospel, but we have the testimony of eyewitnesses—the apostles who gave their lives in martyrdom for their proclamation of Christ. We are delighted with miracles with which God might surprise us. But God’s final stage in his plan of redemption is the marvelous return of Jesus on the clouds of heaven. Until then, we are given eyes of faith to recognize God’s loving care through everyday people and occasions.

Just as we wouldn’t have expected to find the Creator of the universe in a feeding trough of a barn in some obscure village, much less hanging, bloody, on a Roman cross, we do not expect to find him delivering his extraordinary gifts in such human places and in such humble ways as human speech, a bath, and a meal. This can’t be right, we reason. We need signs and wonders to know that God is with us. Yet it is only because God has promised to meet us in the humble and ordinary places, to deliver his inheritance, that we are content to receive him in these ways. If the apostles themselves could only find God in the most unlikely of places, how can we imagine that we can find him naked in glory rather than meet him clothed with his gospel, coming in peace?

CNN will not be showing up at a church that is simply trusting God to do extraordinary things through his ordinary means of grace delivered by ordinary servants. But God will. Week after week. These means of grace and the ordinary fellowship of the saints that nurtures and guides us throughout our life may seem frail, but they are jars that carry a rich treasure: Christ with all of his saving benefits. Whatever gifts may spill over into other activities and venues, it is by sharing in the ordinary service of Christ to his people each week that we become heirs of eternal life and draw others into his everlasting kingdom.

Michael Horton is professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in California. He is also host of White Horse Inn broadcast/podcast, and editor of Modern Reformation magazine. This article is excerpted from his Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, copyright 2014). Reprinted with permission.

Follow The Behemoth on Twitter and Facebook.

Also in this Issue

Issue 14 / January 22, 2015
  1. Editors’ Note
  2. Water Is Weird

    And its strange behaviors make life possible. /

  3. When Are We Going to Get There?

    If it’s space travel you’re complaining about, the answer is ‘Not in your lifetime.’ /

  4. The Peace of Wild Things

    Resting in the grace of the world. /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Links to amazing stuff

Issue Archives