In a recent post, Josh described how he doesn’t believe “that all of life or all of Scripture falls into some kind of terror/comfort dialectic of feeling guilty, then feeling absolved”:
I’m not Martin Luther. I don’t have his disposition or conscience. I do not continually feel God breathing down my neck with the fire of judgement for failing to have been good enough to earn his favor. I don’t see it everywhere in Scripture, either. I see it some places, mostly the Psalms and Prophets, and I do acknowledge that’s a part of human existence, but the Lutheran tendency is to boil all of reality down to this one thing. I don’t ever see Paul trying to scare people with the Law. I don’t see Jesus do it much, either.
Now, overall I agree with Josh’s point here (and share his lack of a “Luther-an” temperament), though I’m glad to say I’ve never come across the stereotypical “terrify then comfort” law/gospel preaching which Josh describes. But I think he exaggerates the extent to which this “part of human existence” is relatively marginal in Scripture, a point reinforced for me by reading Psalm 38 this morning:
O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.
There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
they weigh like a burden too heavy for me.
If the law’s terrors are not to be seen “everywhere in Scripture”, that is in part because large swathes of Scripture are concerned with the exterior life of God’s people and of God’s purposes for them. However, once we focus on those parts of Scripture that reveal to us something of the interior life of God’s people – the psalms, parts of the prophets (e.g. Jeremiah), Romans 7 – then consciousness of sin and of the law’s terrors becomes more prominent.
That still doesn’t mean that every sermon should follow a simplistic wound-then-heal, terrify-then-comfort, punch-then-cuddle template. It’s more that the overall rhythm of the church’s liturgy – of confession and absolution, Lent and Easter, penitential psalms and joyful psalms – provides a means by which we can speak one truth about ourselves (that we are sinners deserving God’s condemnation, whether we feel that way or not) and hear God speak another truth about ourselves (that we are redeemed and forgiven in Christ, again whether we feel it or not). This is a liberation for those of us whose temperaments might lead us to overlook one or other of those truths.