04 October 2007

Of Reformation, And The Hatred Thereof.

This first month at the Church of the Holy Communion has been a great joy for me in many regards, but perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the experience thus far has been the daily immersion in Miles Coverdale’s translation of the Psalter (the version printed in the Anglican Service Book) as we read the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. No doubt part of my enjoyment is due to the novelty of an unfamiliar translation, enabling me to hear the Psalms “again for the first time.” But also there is no denying the beauty of Coverdale’s phrasing, a mode of expression that swings (without jarring) from a quaint earthiness to transcendent majesty. Often a particular phrase read at the Office will stick in my mind and percolate into my thoughts throughout the day.

One phrase that has continued in my mind (since Morning Prayer on the 10th day of the month, in fact) comes from Psalm 50, wherein the Lord indicts his covenant people because while they are punctilious in their offering of the appointed sacrifices and other “religious” duties, yet their hearts and their daily lives are from God:

But unto the ungodly saith God, Why dost thou preach my laws, and takest my covenant into thy mouth;

Whereas thou hatest to be reformed, and cast my words behind thee. (vv. 16,17)

“Hatest to be reformed, indeed.” I don’t like it at all. Affirmed, yes. Flattered, certainly. Coddled – bring it on. But reformed, no thank you.

This makes no sense of course. Why wouldn’t I want to be reformed by a loving God, why wouldn’t I whole-heartedly turn myself over to his care and say with the Blessed Virgin Mary, “be it unto me according to thy word.” Many reasons, of course, and all of them bad. Part of the damage that sin does in our lives is to blind us to the damage of sin, if I may so phrase it. In fact, this phenomenon is an act of judgment. When we continue in rebellion, God hands us over to rebellion, our hearts are hardened (see, for instance, Rom. 1.28), and, smug and self-satisfied, we hate to be reformed.

But God is determined, and our self-deceptions and rationalizations are no match for his love. And it is his love that wins us, poured out on the cross of Jesus Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way: “Only the cross as God’s truth about us makes us truthful. Those who know the truth can no longer shy away from any truth” – even and especially the truth about ourselves, so that we will love to be reformed, remade into the image of his Son.


From the October parish newsletter.


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