, , ,

Stanza 6

Why didst thou thus? Reason stands gastered here.

She’s overflown: this soars above her sight.

God’s only Son for sinner thus appear

Prepare for dirt a throne in glory bright!

Stand in the door of glory to embrace                      35

Such dirty bits of dirt with such grace!


Here is one of the unfathomable mysteries of the Gospel: Why would God do this:

Why didst thou thus?

The creature can never provide any benefit to the Creator. Even the bare existence of the creature is at the will of the Creator. When the creature rebels, what reason would God have to rescue the creature of its rebellion:

Reason stands gastered here.

God’s mercy and love are unreasonable, in any metric which we could use. When reason looks upon this situation it causes perplexity and fear, it is “gastered”. The word “gastered” is related to gast, agast, and aghast, all meaning to be afraid. The idea here is as if reason looks upon what God has done and is as frightened as if it had seen a ghost.

Now it may seem strange to combine the idea of God’s mercy and sacrifice with fear. However the Scripture does just that:

Psalm 130:3–4 (ESV)

                      If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,

O Lord, who could stand?

                      But with you there is forgiveness,

that you may be feared.

When reason looks about grace, it seems inexplicable:

Micah 7:18–20 (ESV)

            18         Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity

and passing over transgression

for the remnant of his inheritance?

                        He does not retain his anger forever,

because he delights in steadfast love.

            19         He will again have compassion on us;

he will tread our iniquities underfoot.

                        You will cast all our sins

into the depths of the sea.

            20         You will show faithfulness to Jacob

and steadfast love to Abraham,

                        as you have sworn to our fathers

from the days of old.

The language “pardoning iniquity” is literally “bearing iniquity” or carrying it away, hence pardoning. But the iniquity is carried away because it is carried by the body of Christ:

22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2:22–24 (ESV)

To seek to explain the act of God on here on some “rational” basis will fail:

She’s overflown: this soars above her sight.

We are left with no explanation than the “praise of his glory.” Eph. 1:12.

We are left here with the repetition of the words and images of dirt and glory:

God’s only Son for sinner thus appear

Prepare for dirt a throne in glory bright!

Stand in the door of glory to embrace                      35

Such dirty bits of dirt with such grace!

The foulest are brought up to the highest. Mud, for we are dirt and water, is elevated to a rank above the angels, to share an inheritance with Christ.

Why would God such a thing? A parable by Kierkegaard alludes to this absurdity:

“Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.

“And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

“She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

“The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.”

The parable however should not end here. The king then raises the beggar to the throne. It is ridiculous. Why would God even trouble himself?

We do not tremble at the thoughts of God’s action here as we should. Perhaps our natural pride is such that we do not see ourselves as the humble maiden but as someone who should be loved by the King.  With Heinrich Heine we could think, “Of course God will forgive me; that’s his job.”

What is strange in our pride is that grace ennobles us. Anyone reasonably acquainted with human beings cannot have an overly high valuation on the manner to which we live up to that we profess to be best.  We are ridiculous and become increasing absurd. We certainly do nothing to ennoble God.

We have the dignity of a dog standing on its hindlegs begging for snacks.

But God’s love and mercy ennoble us, because God conveys his glory to us and values us so. It the high value which God places upon us which makes of infinite value. And that leaves us with the mystery:

Psalm 8

To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm of David.

1 O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. 2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. 6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: 7 All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; 8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. 9 O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!