Chapter Five: Is Anybody Up There? (Chapter Six, too)
by Elizabeth de Barros
“We cannot climb up to God, but He has descended to us.”
— Michael Horton
Lots of ice, a decent amount of half & half, and some turbinado sugar to let sink down to the bottom…that’s how I roll when it’s hot! OK…yes, the book. Well, if there’s one thing Michael Horton is good at, it’s taking a profound subject and blasting home a layered point as he spins several plates while hopping on one foot. In these next two chapters, he pulls out the BIG guns and fires away at the BIG questions: Where is God? and Why, God? There’s much to consider and discuss; I won’t even try to cover it all. But hopefully, we’ll tap a vein that brings some life and builds faith. Remember, next week we start Part Two: “God of the Empty Tomb” in which we have left only two more discussions. Then what we’ve learned will be, as the author says, “put to the test of real life.” Now, once I plunk in my trusty pink straw, I’ll be good to go…
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 5
In “Is Anybody Up There?” Horton answers the universal question, “Where is God when we need Him most?” by first stating that God condescends to us through His ordained means of grace and the many “masks” He wears through the neighbors and saints in our community. He then proceeds to take the reader on a long meandering tour to explain our inherited godless culture, where the existence of God isn’t taken for granted anymore as much as it has been exchanged for despair (p.72). Horton credits the Nietzsches, the Feuerbachs, the Marxes and the Freuds of this world for having systematically sown unbelief by reducing God to a void, a dream, a drug and a coping mechanism — the fruit of which has come to bear in William James’ pragmatism. As it flourishes in society and in the Church, its dictates of “God is whatever works” and “what we think we need” undermine the high and holy place of God, without anyone batting an eyelash.
But Horton does not abandon us to despair. He finishes the tour by announcing that this not the gospel, and warns us to not buy their trinkets. Using the literary technique of contrast, he reveals their theology of glory as the mythical tales of supermen — religion of the worst kind — and tells of a better way. To the one crying, “Where is God for me, for us, given the mess we’re in right now?” Horton offers not the general revelation of God as displayed in the glory of a magnificent sunset, but the special revelation of His saving will, a particular promise that says: “I have forgiven your sins, so come to Me. Do not be afraid.”
The author knew where he was going the entire time — and guides us back to where he started, reminding us of a Savior who condescends to us.
SUMMARY of CHAPTER 6
In “If We Just Knew Why God Let It Happen,” Horton attempts to recover what’s largely been lost — an appreciation for God’s ordinary providence in society. He advocates for theological sanity by asking: Can we let God be God? Can we live with mystery and still trust Him, in His goodness? as he introduces the ideas of providence vs. miracle, common grace vs. saving grace, direct vs. indirect government — showing how they work together in all of life throughout the whole of God’s sovereignty, seen and unseen. He suggests a faith that allows for tension in truth where these distinctions play out:
“Just as God rules the affairs of his creation no less through providence than miracle,
or common grace than saving grace,
he is just as active when he works through creatures
as when he directly brings about his designs apart from them.”
Single-handedly, the author lifts our vision to behold God “even where we do not usually expect to find him, and to trust that even when we do not find him, he is already there.” Nobly and with expertise, he gently cautions us away from yielding to unbelief cloaked in gnosis, or in other words, a “need to know.” Which begs another question: Would “knowing why” change anything?
In answer to that, he quotes Calvin: “It would not even be useful for us to know what God himself…willed to be hidden.” (p. 98)
I’m grateful for the way Michael Horton educates while warning and protecting the flock of God. In Chapter 5, he may have gone off on a tangent or two and repeated himself a lot, but he didn’t waste a drop of ink — or my time — in doing so. I appreciate his gift of persuasion. He soundly reasons that we put away religious thinking and the fleshly, cultural temptation to succumb to a theology of glory. I need reminding over and over that I have a Savior, as I tend to forget that this mighty God is nearer than I dare trust in my hour of need.
Chapter 6 had my wheels turning! I loved how he put this one together, explaining in detail the distinctions of providence and miracle, common and saving grace, direct and indirect government, etc. Like a true reformer, he carries the torch for a faith that is Biblically balanced, one that wards against worldly principles and the lesser goals of gnosis and hyper-spirituality, the pretense of knowing what God is up to at all times. And he points to a God who is gracious, to the One who heals either by way of the surgeon’s hands or the immediate miracle, to the One who rains on the just and the unjust. Horton does not apologize for God, nor does he seek to explain Him away. Instead, like a faithful steward, he humbly regards the majesty of the Lord and invites us to do the same.
I found this chapter to be not only encouraging, but refreshing!
“Religion actually is a projection of our own felt needs, fig leaves of our inner lives to cloak our guilt, a golden calf of our own imaginations to hide us from the God of blinding glory. But religion is not revelation. Religion expresses our longings. Revelation communicates God’s.” (p. 75)
“The sheer presence or existence of God is not itself good news to us in our sin.” (p. 77)
“One moment we may be lost in the grandeur and sheer force of the ocean’s waves; the next we are just as lost in their dread as they burst their bonds, causing havoc and destruction.” (p. 80)
“Things are not as they seem.”
“We do not know what God has decided in his deep and mysterious hiddenness, and we can only know what God condescends to reveal to us as he cloaks his unapproachable light in humility and weakness. (p. 83)
“He has still not revealed everything.”
“He remains Lord over his counsels.” (p. 96)
“God’s wisdom reorients us to see everything differently.” (p. 104)
“Our times are in His hands…”
“God’s providence cannot really be discerned apart from the gospel, apart from the knowledge that God is up to something here that will turn Good Friday into Easter morning.” (p. 110)
OK, that was a lot to swallow. What resonated with you? What did you like/dislike? Reflect on? Agree/disagree with?
Please share your thoughts, insights, questions, or favorite excerpts in ftm’s comment section. Of course, if you’d rather simply listen, that’s fine, too.
FOR NEXT WEEK
We begin Part Two: “God of the Empty Tomb”
Read Chapters 7 & 8: “Out of the Whirlwind” and “A New Creation”