Psalm 29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
When Psalm 29 was written, it took place during the Bronze Age, when human understanding about physics, nature, and the climate was very limited. Because of this, they supposed that the sound of thunder, the howling of a hurricane, the eruption of a volcano, or the roaring of a flood were all the mighty, powerful, and majestic voices of God.
And because these elements were so destructive, most of the time the people felt that when God spoke, it was to judge the sins of the people and punish them for their evil. Think about it – if the thunder announced the coming of a terrible storm, which then devastated a whole community, the religious leaders would be quick to pounce upon this as a sign of God’s retribution. And if you don’t think that that kind of misrepresentation of God occurs in our sophisticated, modern world, then we only have to go back to the 1980’s when the Moral Majority, and the rest of their self-righteous brood, declared that AIDS was sent into the world as a divine condemnation of gay people.
These days, we understand more about the natural world and what causes volcanic eruptions, thunder and lightning, and floods and hurricanes. We no longer describe them as the voice of God; instead we call them forces of nature. But that leaves us with a quandary: where and when do we hear the voice of God? Added to that is an even more difficult question: if God is speaking to us today, are we listening?
There’s an interesting case currently going through the British courts. It involves a religious organization called the Christian Voice, which is suing the metro underground system in London. The action surrounds the controversy of adverts that appear on the subway trains with these words:
“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
The Christian Group claims that the advert contravenes the Advertising Standards Authority, which insists that advertisers must prove the claims that they make about their products. In other words, because the advert insists that “there’s probably no God,” the advertisers have to hold evidence that God probably doesn’t exist. If they can’t do this, then the adverts will have to be taken down.
The agnostic advertisers are now considering a change in their campaign. They plan to put up a poster which reads: “There’s no evidence that God exists, so stop worrying and enjoy life.” If the Christian group contends that ad, then they’ll have to produce evidence in court that God exists. I guess if He makes a personal appearance before the judge, then the Christians will win their case.
How do we know legally and scientifically that God really exists? We don’t, and that’s why we call our beliefs ‘faith” and not facts. And this faith is increasingly becoming a hard sell in our modern culture. God may have been good enough for Bronze Age monotheists who thought that the world was flat and that the thunder was God’s voice, but for us 21st century techno-savvy, computer using, space age people, we want a lot more facts to support our faith. Just because someone hears the rumble of thunder in the distance doesn’t mean that God is angry with us. We are far too knowledgeable and sophisticated for those kinds of simple beliefs.
So where do we find God? When do we hear His voice? How do we know that there’s something bigger and better beyond life, and out there somewhere in the enormous universe? The short answer is this: we don’t know.
So why do we come here, Sunday after Sunday, week after week, to a religious gathering where everything is sacred and yet nothing is certain? Why do we collectively say prayers to a distant deity, who may not even be in range to hear our heartfelt pleas? The short answer is this: because we trust Jesus.
We trust His words, His work, and His ways. We place our hopes into His hands and our hearts into His keeping. We live our lives as followers of the faith He planted, and we worship the God that Christ proclaimed.
We learn about Jesus from the Gospels and in today’s story, we hear about Him being baptized in the River Jordan. That holy river was a sacred place to His people, the Jews. It marked the barrier between the land that God gave to His Chosen people and the rest of the world. It was at the Jordan that the Hebrew children stopped wandering in the wilderness and settled in the land of their forefathers.
Crossing over the Jordan was symbolic of starting a new life, so when Christ was baptized in the Jordan, as He came up from the waters, a new life, a new journey, and a new faith in God began. Even today, when we talk about someone getting a new start in life, we talk about crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land. And in many of our beautiful African-American spirituals, crossing the Jordan means passing from this life into the next.
When Jesus rose up from the waters of baptism, the Gospel tells us that a voice from heaven was heard, saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” It was the voice of God, but not in that ancient Bronze Age sense. This wasn’t the roaring of flood waters, or the howling of a hurricane, or the terrifying claps of thunder. This wasn’t the ancient destructive divine proclamation that punishment was imminent and disaster was only seconds away. This wasn’t the powerful and majestic voice of a vengeful god, this was the cheerful and enthusiastic shout of a delighted father, saying:
Attaboy, Jesus. I am really proud of you! Or in other words, “That’s My Boy!”
On Jan 11, 1933, a group of pastors in Altona, Hamburg in Germany signed a statement which is now known as the Altonauer Confession. They were protesting against Hitler and his henchmen and were trying to make the German population aware of the wickedness that was going on. Six months previous to this, they had seen a group of German Communist workers placed against a wall and shot to death by a Nazi firing squad. The wall behind the unfortunate victims belonged to one of the Altona churches. This is what made the pastors realize that their country was being taken over by evil monsters.
The Confession begins with these words: “It is the first task of the church to hear God’s voice and have its conscience sharpened by the Gospels.” (repeat)
On that fateful day in the summer of 1932, as the crack of Nazi rifles was heard at the church wall, the Altona pastors heard the voice of God and started a movement which was to become the courageous Confessing Church of German Christians, who constantly preached against Hitler and Nazism. Rather than hear, listen to, and accept the words of the monster that 99% of the German population revered as their Fuhrer, this brave band of pastors listened to, and acted upon the voice of God.
So, how do we apply this lesson? Where and when do we hear the voice of God? And if God is speaking to us today, are we listening?
We hear the voice of God in church, when we read, retain, and receive the Gospels. God speaks to us across the centuries through the life, work, and ministry of Jesus. The real question is this: are we listening?
If we are then one day, when we cross the Jordan, we will hear the cheerful, enthusiastic, and delighted voice of God say to each one of us:
“Attaboy! Attagirl! I am really proud and pleased with you! Come and enjoy my Kingdom forever!”