On Hearing God’s Voice Extra Nos

An excerpt from Jeffrey Meyers’ The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship, pp. 283-285.

Faith comes from hearing. —Romans 10:7a.

One does not need to read very far into Emily Dickinson’s poetry to discover that her verse often captures the quintessential American religious consciousness. Consider these lines from three of Emily Dickinson’s poems:

Some keep the Sabbath, going to church
I keep it, staying at home. Of course—I prayed—
And did God care?

At least—to pray is left—is left—
O Jesus—in the air—
I know not which thy chamber is
I’m knocking everywhere—
Thou settest Earthquake in the South—
And Maelstrom in the sea—
Say, Jesus Christ of Nazareth—
Hast thou no Arm for me?

Poor Emily. She doesn’t know where to go, where to find Jesus, where to find Jesus’ “arm for her.” “O Jesus—in the air—I know not which thy chamber is.” Knocking everywhere, but nowhere in particular, Dickinson makes the shocking discovery that grace is nowhere to be found. She has no assurance that Jesus is for her because she doesn’t know where He is. God’s power is manifested everywhere. But how does knowledge of God’s omnipotence and exhaustive control help? How can she know He loves and cares for her? The sovereign Lord is in the air and in the sea, but where is He for me?

I saw a placard on a church last year that asked passersby, “Looking for Jesus?” The answer was provided below in bold letters. “YOU WILL FIND HIM IN YOUR HEART. ” What does that mean? I thought. What do unbelievers think when they read that advice? Where in the Bible does it say that we should look for Jesus in our hearts or that we should turn inward to try to find Him? We find precisely the opposite. Jesus came down from heaven and took on our flesh  1:14). And the true God, the God for us, is found when we learn to “come to” and “listen to” Jesus. But what does that mean for us today? While He was on earth people could literally come to Him. But now, since He has bodily ascended, where is He? Where is He to be found? How do we “come” to Jesus today? Where do we hear His voice? Did He come in the flesh and then leave this world only to leave us to our own mental or emotional inner resources?

No! Our Lord loves us so much, that He ordains that He can be found. He can still be heard. But where? Where are His hands and feet? Where is His voice heard today? Where can we find Him now that His physical body has been removed from us? He has bodily ascended to heaven, to be sure, but is that all that the Bible has to say about the “body of Christ”? That it is now located in heaven? The New Testament says that the Church is the body of Christ. Jesus promised that “when two are three are gathered, there I am” (Mt. 18:20). Jesus sent the apostles to continue the mission the Father sent Him on, breathing on them so that they would possess the same Holy Spirit (Jn. 20:19-23). And, of course, Paul clearly states that the Church is the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12-14, 27). When Paul persecuted members of the Church, Jesus complained to Paul, “Why are you persecuting me” (Acts 9:4-5).

The problem in American Christianity is that the possibility and enjoyment of a relationship with Christ has been severed from His Body, the Church, and from the ministry and sacraments of the Church. When this happens the Christian faith becomes unspecified, generalized, and abstract. Grace cannot be found here or there, or anywhere. Jesus in the air = Jesus nowhere.

Christians have an answer for Emily’s dilemma. At least one—third of Calvin’s Institutes (Book IV) is devoted to the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine of God, man, Christ, and salvation all culminate in the mystical Body of which Christ is the Head. This “high” ecclesiastical theology can be found in all of the sixteenth-century Reformers and especially in early sixteenth-century Reformed theology. It is in this community of flesh and blood saints, oral speech, material rituals, and physical sacraments that God meets with us and does such wonderful things. Luther says, “The Holy Christian Church is the principal work of God, for the sake of which all things were made. In the Church, great wonders daily occur, such as the forgiveness of sins, triumph over death… the gift of righteousness and eternal life.”

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