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Of Consolation and Desolation

The terms consolation and desolation are used by Ignatius de Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. I’ll let Ignatius define the terms, though they are briefly presented and not in their fullness.

I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all…Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord. [1]

I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule [regarding consolation], such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. [2]

Remembering that the Exercises were written between 1522 and 1524, the words “consolation” and “desolation” are translations of Latin terms which were translations of Spanish words for Ignatius wrote in Spanish, we can gather that Ignatius did not use them in the manner in which we use them today. Our dictionaries sum it up in the one word “comfort.” Desolation is grief, sadness, and ruin. As I write, I will be using Ignatius’ definitions.

Now it seems to me that the modern-day Church has become enamored with consolation. We want things that are going to feel good, to help us put last week behind us and “fill us up” for the week to come. However, this process can be done through many different means. For instance, attending a concert or play, watching a movie, or going to a sporting event. There are other ways of trying to get the “feeling” of consolation such as drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana. None of these things have anything to do with the Church, worship, or God.

I am empathetic to this weekly attempt to get a spiritual high. I have participated in some churches in my life seeking the same thing. But the high one gets from worship, if one gets anything at all, is very short-lived. It dissipates like smoke in the air. I am also empathetic with pastors who feel the pressure from his or her congregation to be as charming, charismatic, and entertaining as those they hear on the radio or see on television.

However, feeling good is not at all what worship is about. In fact, if worship is properly addressed to God, we might well feel humble, ashamed, and thankful for our salvation. Look again at the definition, “every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.” Consolations call us to heavenly things, to salvation, and it is peacefully quiet. Try to accomplish the latter in our contemporary theater-like churches and highly paced music and worship.

Ignatius gives us instruction for times of consolation:

Let him who is consoled see to humbling himself and lowering himself as much as he can, thinking how little he is able for in the time of desolation without such grace or consolation. [3]

Why? Because in this life, consolation is fleeting. We even have the power to psychologically create feelings of consolation that are not consolation at all. They are emotional tricks.

Jesus took Peter, John, and James up a mountain to the top (Matthew 17). When they reached the top, they saw Jesus transfigured. The Greek word is where we get the word metamorphosis. Jesus was changed, and the change was so the three disciples could see him in his glorified state. Now that’s consolation! Peter was so excited that he wanted to stay there. He never wanted to leave the consolation of Jesus glorified. The voice of God interrupted Peter in his excitement. They were not to stay there in their mountain-top high. They had to go back down the mountain and work. And that is where desolation does its work.

I will continue this in my next post.

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A New Covenant

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”” (Jeremiah 31:31–34, ESV)

Today is Palm Sunday. Many of us are either home alone or with our families making some attempt to worship our Lord and God, Jesus Christ. However, as Martin Luther penned, “The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, his kingdom is forever.” Thanks be to God!

My last post was a bit of a commentary on the two aspects of Palm Sunday. First is the joy of the coming of the King, and the second is what the king brings with him. That is the judgment on sin and the righteousness of God.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21–22, ESV)

In this lies the Gospel. The coming of the King was not for a political conquering of the world but for a spiritual conquering. I am not trying to imply that one is material and the other is not, for all things material were and are spiritual. It is their use that is for good or for evil, and that use centers on the hearts of mankind. Humanism is the dividing point for motivations that are anthropocentric are in conflict with those that are theocentric. More simply put, the goals of sinful man are self-glory as gods and not denial of self for the glory of God Almighty who created all humanity to be in his image.

Following our sin, God began his restoration project. His work among us has been and remains to be by Covenant. The coming of Christ is the fulcrum of restoration. Anna and Simion knew it. So did the angels, the shepherds, and the magi. The disciples learned to see it and became apostles to proclaim it to the whole world. There is no accident or coincidence that the Bible is the greatest book of all time and has bee preserved from the earliest days. And there is no accident or coincidence that all of history is divided into two parts which are divided by the Incarnation. Anno Domini or AD and Before Christ or BC are not from the Bible and came much later in history. However, they are the recognition that there was a major shift in history.

In the biblical sense, the division is the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. God came in the flesh to finish the Old Covenant and establish a new one. Jeremiah makes the clearest prophecy of the coming of a new covenant, but all of the Old Covenant was to prepare us for that which was to come in Christ. Jesus himself declared that he brought a New Covenant when he said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20, ESV)

This week we shall observe the meeting with the disciples in the upper room, the prayer in the garden, the treason of Judas, the kangaroo court that judged the Messiah, the crucifixion of Christ, and his resurrection. We will see the tapestry in the Temple torn, the sky darkened, the earth shaken, and the burial of God. The old is “finished.”

And we shall celebrate the coming of the new. This coming will take time. Jesus will give final instructions and the Spirit to those he has called to be Apostles. The Holy Spirit will be poured out on all flesh. The Temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed so that not one stone will be left standing (Matthew 24:2). Then the old will give way to the new completely.

Let us all rejoice at the coming of the King who brought the New Covenant. Let us all embrace that Covenant of Christ and live new lives.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

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Our Only Comfort

The first Lord’s Day of the Heidelberg Catechism reads as follows:

Question 1
What is thy only comfort in life and death?
That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. (Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed., (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

The catechism was written during and for the Dutch Reformation. Times were tough then. Challenges to the Roman Church were treated with severity. The words at the beginning of this great document designed as a preaching resource are true words of comfort. Dr. Zacharias Ursinus, the author and first commentator of the document began with an overview of the gospel. Can anyone say this is not the beginning of wisdom and comfort?

“The substance of this comfort consists in this that we are ingrafted into Christ by faith, that through him we are reconciled to, and beloved of God, that thus he may care for and save us eternally.” (Zacharias Ursinus and G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 17).

I encourage you to meditate on these words. Most copies of the catechism have verses in the Bible footnoted, however, maybe you can search the Scriptures for support. Nevertheless, we are in a time of uncertainty and anxiety for many people. I personally don’t like the use of words like “unprecedented” to describe Covid-19. History shows this outbreak of a new virus to be a repetition of many events in the past. But this does not alter the seriousness of the present. Those of us who claim to find our comfort in knowing and being known by Jesus Christ ought to live like the comfort we have.

What might your life be like if the perfect love of God has cast out all your fears?

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