Wednesday, March 16, 2011

God's Characteristic Goodness

I am still reading, when I can find the time, that massive volume Preaching With Sacred Fire. It is interesting what you can find in a public library. I think we have an especially fine library in our city, especially as compared to some cities in which I have lived and visited. We have a great section for local historians. I’ve read all manner of historical volumes, the battles of Native American heroes, biographies of black Americans, and all kinds of contemporary biographies and politically related books.

Recently, I decided I needed to explore again the religion section. It isn’t quite like browsing through a seminary library, or like my former alma mater at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth with its hundreds of thousands of volumes, but you never know what you will find in a public library. Thus, I was a little surprised to discover this 960 page anthology on black preaching.

Reading it, I have learned, among other things, that by 1650 more than one million slaves were brought to North America. A completely new thought to me was this idea: Muslims have been part of American history since its very beginnings, if for no other reason than that they came in as invited guests via our slave ships. Moreover, I discovered that between 1650 and 1789 there were more than two hundred slave-ship revolts. A quote that spoke to me was this word: “A continent not a country was pillaged of its most valuable assets: its youngest and healthiest, along with some of its most talented people” (Preaching With Sacred Fire, p. 16).

But I want to think about the attributes of God. Think with me for a moment. Webster’s New World Dictionary suggests an attribute means something we think of as belonging to, or coming from, a particular person or thing. It can be some feature, or quality. Freedom of speech is an attribute of democracy. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O Lord, will I sing” (Psalm 101:1). Mercy is an attribute of God.

We hear a lot about God’s judgments. Yet, if we talk too much about God’s mercies, people say we’re being soft on God. However, if I focus on the water that is in a half-full glass of water, that does not mean I do not know it is also half empty; it only means I choose to focus on the more obvious positive. With that, allow me to share a word picture of God’s mercy, as painted by Lucius H. Holsey, a light-skinned, red-headed former slave become Methodist (CME) preacher. It comes from a sermon called “The Song of Believers” delivered about 1896.

Under a heading of “But What is Mercy?” Holsey tells us “… Mercy, like an archangel, wrapped in the seven colors of the rainbow, stood before God with pacification written on her brow. A tablet of solid carbuncle fringed with purest gold covered her heart, and in bold letters set with diamonds and engraved with the signet of love, was written ‘Melting Pity.’

“Around her golden-crowned head flashed a halo of heavenly light, as if the graces of a thousand queens had gathered about her to beautify her glorious self. Her feet were covered with amber sandals as if electrified by the affinity of powers that continued to move while she stood. Her wings of fire were outspread, ready to fly at God’s command.

“The thunders of wrath are hushed. Justice half sheathes her bloody sword. Angels and all the ranks and files of the heavenly world crowd about her to wonder and admire. There stood Mercy. Who is she? She is the queen of heaven, the gift of God to man, the grandest contrivance and the crowning conception of Deity. Slowly, but surely, through all the sinful ages of man she has gathered up the tears, the woes and sighs of men, and carries them to heaven, and to God.

“The whole earth with its crowded intelligences once cried and travailed in pain to be delivered and saved. Through all the arteries of the human heart and soul, death, eternal death, pulsated in every flowing current, planed on every string, gnawed asunder every silver cable and golden thread that ramified and cemented the entities and eternity of man with God. The night of the world was long, dreary and dark.

“A heavy leaden cloud in with the slow, dull mutterings of wrath were heard threw its dark shade of death and ashy penumbra athwart the space in which revolved the mental and moral hemisphered globe. Now and then, a red current of flame would leap from the darker center and flash across the leaden zones only to exhibit the stronger and sabler bands that held in awful solitude the pent-up wrath of the angry storm. Should God touch one wire, or send a flash of fire through the whole, like a cloudburst, his wrath would deluge the moral sphere and sink the sinning race to ruin.

“But mercy stands before the throne of God and waves the white flag of peace and a true intervenes. Then stretching her golden pinions she views the leaden cloud of wrath, and death, as with steeds of flame and chariots of fire, she sweeps on and down from the throne of the great king. But in mid-air she seems to pause for a moment to survey the continents and islands, to count the slain millions and the dying thousands, to measure the depths of sorrows, and the exceeding sinfulness of sin.

“Her chariot wheels roll along the defiles of blood and death, where the prisoner dragged his chain, where mothers wept for their slain sons and daughters, and starving children cried for bread because their fathers and brothers fell in battle. She stands by dying man and his ruined race. Over his bleeding corpse she spreads her mantle of grace, recovers him from his sins, and establishes him in the Eternal, reconciled, sanctified and saved.”

What a picture! I am indebted to that black preacher that I never before knew existed. He paints a picture of God’s goodness and mercy in which I take comfort, beyond the mere beauty of his words. On other occasions, I take comfort in the words John W. Peterson put to music (v2, “Surely Goodness and Mercy”):
He restoreth my soul when I’m weary;
He giveth me strength day by day,
He leads me beside the still waters; He guards me each step of the way.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,
And I shall feast at the table spread for me.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life.

From Warner’s World,
I am

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