Previous Articles in this series:
Rev. Harrison Goodman
Platitudes don't help people. We only say them because they're inoffensive. We don't think they'll make things worse. If someone's already hurting, though, not making things worse doesn't help. Things are already bad. If someone is on fire, refusing to pour gasoline on them doesn't actually put out the fire that's already there. Platitudes never help. Sometimes the church accidentally mutters platitudes, too.
One of the worst of those is "God is in heaven and you'll see Him there when you die." In other words, you won't see Him until you die. The best you can hope for is that He'll drop down a favor from on high now and then. Maybe answer a prayer. Maybe just send you a fuzzy feeling. Maybe not. Sometimes we get sick and die. Sometimes we're depressed and hurting and just can't seem to find anything that makes us feel good anymore.
Teaching that God is in heaven and you'll only really see Him when you get there means that you're basically on your own. It means you don't think Jesus is really here. It means that at best, your church will be about Jesus. That's not good enough. Telling a starving man about a cheeseburger doesn't do him any good. It's just cruel. Telling broken sinners there's a God who loves them and helps them and heals them...but He's in heaven right now is a false peace. At best, a church that's just about Jesus spins it's wheels and goes nowhere. At best, it's a group of orphans who sit around and tell each other how great it will be to have a parent someday. There's help later. Not now. If that's the case, there's no help for you here, so the only thing we can hope for is to hurry up and die. That's a very, very bad thing to tell depressed people.
God is not stuck in heaven. When He saw us hurting, He didn't stay in heaven and drop down parachutes full of "good news." He loved us. He took on the same hurt, the same broken human flesh. He became incarnate. God joined His people in their suffering to bear that grief and pain and sin Himself on a cross. God died on a cross for you, for your hurt, your sin. He died your death. When God saw hurt, He dove headfirst into the worst of it to save you from it.
That's our hope. Jesus died and rose for us so we can be saved from death. But ever since He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, we act like He's stuck up there until the last day. We're on our own until then. No, God is not stuck in heaven. We don't have a Jesus who will be present with us someday. We have a Jesus who makes Himself present with us here and now.
Church is not about Jesus. Church is Jesus. We don't gather every Sunday to talk about a cheeseburger. We gather to eat. We don't talk about how great it will be to finally be with God. We commune. We kneel before a Jesus who is truly and physically present for us. We don't just think about Jesus. We eat. This is His Body and Blood, given for you for the forgiveness of your sins. God isn't stuck in heaven. We eat and drink the very same Body and Blood that died on a cross for you. Jesus is present in church in a meaningful way that helps us when we show up lost and heals us when we show up broken.
When you are hurting, when you feel hemmed in and torn to the ground, when you feel like there isn't one stone left upon another inside you, please don't think God is far away from you. He's not. He is present in His sacrament, and more than that, He is present there for you. We take all of our sin and hurt to the altar and rejoice in a God who makes Himself present at our weakest and lowest moments to bear our pain and grief and sin, and forgive us - every single week.
Pastor Harrison Goodman serves St. Paul Lutheran Church in Winside, Nebraska and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Carroll, Nebraska. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Created: September 24th, 2015