"Over The Darkness, God Hovers"#87-50
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 9, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Genesis 1:2-3
Oh God, hovering over the watery darkness at creation, You spoke a decisive word, "Let there be light." Speak now a word that will go swiftly into our hearts, a word to chase away the darkness of our fears, a glowing encouragement that You will never fail us nor forsake us. Speak to us, the enlightening Word of Christ. Amen.
"I love God," said five-year-old Eric Smith to his mother. "He takes good care of us. He's got the whole world in His hands. But," Eric then added, "sometimes He drops it."
"What?" Mom asked Eric.
"You know," Eric answered, "like when they have those earthquakes in California."
There you have it. Even a five-year-old can identify a problem we adults wonder about. We want to believe in a God who cares for us, but sometimes the evidence suggests something else. Sometimes our experiences lead us to think that God drops it. Think about the world of nature. It's not always kind. We may enjoy the gentle breeze, but when the wind comes in hurricanes and tornadoes, we are devastated. We enjoy peacefully flowing brooks, but all that we've worked for can be washed away when rivers flood. We marvel at the age-old permanence of the mountains, but an earthquake can shake them, and terrify us. Earthquakes can destroy us. The snow falls and kids play in it. An avalanche falls and people are killed. The fire that warms us can turn on us and destroy hundreds and thousands of acres. The sun that we enjoy can parch the earth and burn our crops. If God really is in control of nature, these acts of God could lead us to believe that He doesn't always care for us like a tender Father.
Let's take it closer to home. Your mind is marvelous. But it can be so, so obsessed by mental illness. Your body that thrived in your youth may be weakened by disease, and certainly wears down with age. Your body and mind flourished once, but now nature is working against you. Young Eric was quite insightful. God has the whole world in His hands, but nature sometimes suggests that God drops it. Eric, God doesn't drop it. The truth is, the way the Bible tells it, that God is the Lord of nature, but God doesn't have the world of nature quite where He wants it.
Once He did. Genesis 1 says this. "In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep water." Nature at that time was a mixed-up, chaotic mess. Nothing was distinguishable, like day and night, sun and moon, mountains and fields, and all the specific things we see today in the world of nature. It was a mixed-up watery mess that was enveloped in darkness. Over that dark, watery chaos hovered the Spirit of God. "The Spirit of God was hovering over the water," says Genesis 1:2. You might say that God really was on top of the world of nature, hovering over it, as His Spirit did. God decided to bring order out of that chaos, and you know how He did it? He spoke a word. "Then God said, 'Let there be light.' So there was light. God saw the light was good" (Genesis 1:3-4). And God didn't stop. There was still more good to do.
If you remember your Bible history, you recall that God made all the things that fill the world around us today, day and night, sun and moon, mountains and fields, plants and animals. And God does good work. The Bible tells us over and over again that God looked at the nature that He had made and saw that it was good. That was the time when nature was just the way God wanted it: His perfect creation. But something happened, as we have ample proof all about us. We're back now to the idea that maybe God drops it from time to time. Something corrupted the world of nature so that it sometimes does the terrible things we talked about, earthquakes, and so on. What happened in the world of nature is very much like what has happened to human nature.
God not only made day and night, sun and moon, mountains and fields, plants and animals, but God also made a special creation, man and woman. Like some folks say today, "God doesn't make junk." He made the first people, Adam and Eve, good. He made them, the Bible tells us, in His likeness. You can't get any better, any more perfect than to be made in the likeness of God. Did Adam and Eve ever think that God dropped it? Not at all. They were living in a perfect place: no earthquakes, no floods, no lightning starting fires, and the like. Perfect people in a perfect place. The Garden of Eden, we call it. But, they sinned. They disobeyed God. They did what they selfishly wanted to do rather than what God wanted them to do. "My will, not Thine, be done." They dropped it, not God. So when Adam and Eve did that, the perfect creation was corrupted.
Their bodies became subject to death. Sin, the Bible tells us, has brought death into the world and, thinking now of earthquakes and such, the rest of the world of nature was no longer perfect because of their sin. Thorns and thistles started to grow, making it more difficult to raise crops. You gardeners and farmers know that. Childbirth, which is still a marvel, became a painful part of nature for a woman. People today talk about polluting the environment. The greatest environmental pollution of all time came when Adam and Eve sinned. After God, in His goodness, had hovered over the dark waters and brought order out of chaos, mankind dropped it and turned back to that chaos. That's why you might think that God drops it every once in a while. He's not dropping it. By our sins, we have become unruly, and sin has made nature unruly, too. Oh God, give us a word of hope.
That word comes for Eric, for you, for me. God spoke a decisive word, "Let there be light." God is still hovering over all the darkness that sin has brought into this world and is saying a word that is guaranteed to show us how much He really does care for us. The Word that God speaks over our chaotic world is nothing less than His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the eternal Word of God. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him. And without Him, nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:1-5). Jesus Christ is God's Word of light into the chaos of our world.
Jesus died so that our corrupted human nature could be restored to holiness and purity. That's why Saint Paul says, "The God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). When you believe that, you start to trust the Bible when it tells you that there's a new day coming for you. Things aren't the way God wants them now, but don't read that wrong. God, being God, He's guiding everything to the way He wants it. His will will be done.
The Spirit of God works the confidence of ultimate good into our hearts, through the Good News of Christ. St. Paul wrote, "You haven't received the spirit of slaves that leads you into fear again. Instead, you have received the Spirit of God's adopted children by which we call out, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit, that we are God's children. If we are His children, we are also God's heirs. If we share in Christ's suffering in order to share His glory, we are heirs together with Him" (Romans 8:15-16).
By the way, this isn't only about us. God in His goodness is moving everything toward a new paradise. The corrupted world of nature will also be set free from its bondage to sin. Quoting again from Saint Paul in Romans 8, "Creation was subjected to frustration, but not by its own choice. The One who subjected it to frustration did so in the hope that it would also be set free from slavery to decay in order to share the glorious freedom that the children of God will have. We know that all creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth up to the present time" (Romans 8:19-22).
Long ago, the prophet Isaiah gave a prophetic picture of the glory to come. "Wolves will live with lambs. Leopards will lie down with goats. Calves, young lions, and year-old lambs will be together, and little children will lead them. Cows and bears will eat together. Their young will lie down together. Lions will eat straw like oxen. Infants will play near cobras' holes. Toddlers will put their hands into vipers' nests. They will not hurt or destroy anyone, anywhere, on My holy mountain. The world will be filled with a knowledge of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:8-9). No, God doesn't drop it. He's got the whole world in His hands. Because He does, I'll tell you something else. God is so much on top of the world of nature that He sometimes uses it to get our attention. Your eternal salvation is so important that God will even use the world of nature to alert you to what matters the most.
Here's a passage that shows how God, the Lord of nature, uses it to get our attention. Jesus said, "There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars on the earth. Nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:25-28).
So, when you think that God has dropped it in your life, when you begin to doubt whether He really cares for you, then it's time for faith. Let the Word of Light, the Word that is Christ, be decisive in your life. You can trust that God didn't drop it. He never will drop it. He gave so much for you. He gave His Son to restore your fallen nature to holiness in His sight. Let the Word of Light, the Word that is Christ be decisive in your life. Trust that God is using the world of nature right now, imperfect as it is, to point you to the coming perfection. The world of nature, you see, is an incomplete revelation of God. Earthquakes, and the like, tell us that God is powerful, but they don't tell you that He cares for you. The revelation that gives you constant confidence that God cares for you is not nature—but the Bible. Over the darkness, God still hovers. Let there be light, and there is. Let the Word of Christ scatter your doubts and assure you that God always cares for you.
Well, Eric, this has been more than a five-year-old probably wants. We adults can complicate things, and sometimes we ministers don't make it simple. So let me try to wrap it up for today by simply saying you are right. God really does take good care of us. He does have the whole world in His hands. I'm guessing that your parents will probably keep a copy of this message for your future use. Whether you are 5 or 35 or 65, there will be days when it seems to you that God has dropped it. When that happens, when the darkness threatens to close in on you, just go back to the simple truth that God taught you in your youth. Go back to the Word of Light, the Word that is Christ. "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." That will lighten the way for you, for us all. Amen.
Reflections for August 9, 2020
Title: Over the Darkness, God Hovers
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For free online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and much more, go to lutheranhour.org. And now joining us is our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. Today, I get to visit with the Speaker that you just heard on the broadcast, Dr. Dale Meyer. He served as the Speaker of The Lutheran Hour for 12 years, and just recently completed 15 years of service as president of Concordia Seminary here in St. Louis. That's a world-class institution that prepares pastors and teachers and church leaders, who serve all around the world. So, Dale, this October I know that we've talked how we're going to be celebrating the 90th anniversary of the first Lutheran Hour broadcast. It's now the longest running, Christ-centered radio broadcast in the world. I'm wondering, during your service as Speaker of the Lutheran Hour was there a moment or an event that helped you more deeply appreciate the legacy of this program?
Dale Meyer: Thank you for having me, Dr. Zeigler. I appreciate this time and certainly wish you and The Lutheran Hour blessings in the mission that is ahead. I don't know if there was one single time, but there were countless little times. I remember shaking hands with parishioners wherever I happened to be preaching, and every once in a while someone would come up and say, "I joined this church because of The Lutheran Hour," and they'd go on to tell me the story. That usually went back to the days of Dr. Hoffmann, the long-time great Speaker on the program. Just recently I had another one of those moments. Last year a first-year seminary student came up to me, and we were chatting, and he said, "I am here because of you."
"What do you mean?"
Well, he was an army officer who was on active duty in the Middle East. He listened to The Lutheran Hour. This was during the time between Pastor Seltz and you, Dr. Zeigler. He said he heard me, say at the end of The Lutheran Hour, doing a Q&A time like this, that the seminary needs students. Because of that he resigned from his active-duty role, and he is now entering his second year at the seminary. And today he's preparing for his generation to proclaim Jesus when the rest of us have been taken to our heavenly home.
Mike Zeigler: I was talking to you on the phone the other day about this letter that I got from a listener in Illinois, and it was a letter that Holda Maier, the wife of Dr. Walter A. Maier, no relation. We got all these Meyers running around. That can be confusing, I know. Holda, Walter A. Maier's wife, wrote this letter 70 years ago, after he died, and she was sharing some of his last words, words he spoke from his death bed. He was quoting 1 John chapter 2. He said, "And if any man sin we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, the righteous. Praise God we have an advocate." Then, Holda writes later in the letter that she felt that this was his last message to his beloved radio audience, that Jesus died not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world. So that was a moment that helped me appreciate the legacy, that this man had saved this letter for 70 years and sent it to me. I'm wondering what you think about his last message—if that was it—how can that message from our first Speaker help guide us in the years to come?
Dale Meyer: That is a fascinating question, and I'll tell you why. The other day I was talking with one of our professors here at the seminary. There are different issues in the 21st century then we faced in the 20th century. Now, sin and God's grace are constant. The Word of God is constant. "A changeless Christ for a changing world," Dr. Maier used to say. One of the things in the 21st century is that people are not as hung up on right and wrong as they used to be. They're hung up on many other things—especially being shamed, or getting worldly honor, but right and wrong, sin and forgiveness, Jesus the only Savior we have—doesn't resonate with a lot of Americans and other people in the world today, as it used to in Dr. Maier's time. So, what do we do? Change the message? No, no, no, no, no. We have to slowly unpack for our people, for our audience on The Lutheran Hour and other programming, that the problems we have in this life go back to sin, and our alienation, our rebellion from God.
Now, we're talking in terms of Law and Gospel, we're talking in the Law. The Law, yes, condemns sin, and shows us that we are damnable before our holy Judge. But for that to communicate, we have to start unpacking it, bit by bit, to show a modern 21st-century person here's the problem, and the problem is sin. Thank God, as Dr. Maier said, we do have a Savior. This outreach today, in our 21st century, is going to be a little bit different than it was in the 20th century when everybody pretty much accepted right and wrong, and knew sin and grace. So, we've got to do a lot more teaching today, gentle teaching, and leading them to a confession of sin, and then, "Hey, here is Jesus. Here's your answer."
Mike Zeigler: So, Dale, you've devoted almost 50 years of full-time labor to this work of our Lord Jesus. What other words of encouragement and wisdom do you have for those of us who continue this work into the next generation?
Dale Meyer: That gets right into the powerhouse of my work here at the seminary. My first answer would be for the younger generation to hear the stories of the older generation. Just as I in my time enjoyed sitting in the office of Dr. Oswald Hoffmann and hearing what he had to say, and I learned immensely from that. In that whole arena, then, of hearing the stories I think it's extremely important that the younger generation that the Lord is raising up for the earthly leadership of His church also study history. As Ecclesiastes says, there's nothing new under the sun: sin and grace, right and wrong, eternal damnation, or Someone who will save us from that fate, that's the same. I think we get a better sense of that, and applying that in a calm way to our own time when we go back into the history of the church, and the history of the world, and see, again as Dr. Maier said, it's "a changeless Christ for a changing world."
Mike Zeigler: That's good, good wisdom. Well, I look forward, since you're still going to be around St. Louis, to sit and listen to many more of your stories in the days to come.
Dale Meyer: I hope the Lord in His forbearance gives me many years to tell the stories. Thank you, Dr. Zeigler.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"Eternal Father, Strong to Save" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)