Sunday, October 27, 2019

Reformation Sunday: "When the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone."

"Intercession helps us trust God with the outcome of our deepest concerns."

Like most, I presume, my knowledge of reformation history is all but nil. Did I know, for example, that Luther's 95 theses are 95 one-sentence statements? Had I ever read them? Did I know they dealt with purgatory at length, a doctrine which most of his church progeny disavows?

The list of similar questions could pass 95, and the answer would continue to be "No", or at best, "maybe."

So I thought it might be good to take a look, this being Reformation Sunday and all. In doing so I ran across this gem in theses 27/28:
  • They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
  • It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
I think we know well enough money can not affect the destiny of the dead. But what of this last comment: "When the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone."

Normal conservative Protestantism, of which I am a grateful beneficiary, might apply the following qualifiers:
  1. Where is this dictum found in the Bible, explicitly?
  2. Can the church intercede for those already dead?
I would respond regarding number 1 the Bible is likely not explicit on this point. But it does declare God as one who hears and answers intercession. And it seems self-evident only God can deal with matters of the hereafter and ultimate destiny of the soul.

As for 2, to the church interceding for those already dead, I know the conservative Protestant tradition finds this anathema. My limited study requires I fall back on general theological principles. There is a God, there is a heaven, there is a hell. It is perilous to attempt overmuch detail in those matters, especially with regard to timing. For example, many biblical understandings suggest those who die in the faith are in some kind of dimly understood 'limbo' until the final return of Christ. Yet Jesus told the thief on the cross he would join him that very day in paradise. Certainly that specific example seems outside our normal understanding.

But if I set aside the specific context of Luther's comment and consider the larger claim I am greatly encouraged. Intercession helps us trust God with the outcome of our deepest concerns. When we intercede we do not find 'the answer' as much as we learn to know the One who is the answer. We intercede, and in so doing we learn to rely on His handling of all things. In learning to rely we are assured He does all things well, in His time.

Did Luther's theses say that? Indeed! As with all ruminations on God, they feed the soul.

What are you praying for today? Rest in this assuring reminder: intercession will help you put things in the hands of God. 

That is where they belong. That is where they are best handled. Let go, already, and let God handle the problem. That which wears you out is likely way beyond your capacity. But it is no trouble for Him.