Matins Devotion: February 23, 2023
There’s a mystery that vexes the bodaciously Lutheran. You have a friend or family member who goes to a church where the Gospel is very poorly preached. Christ’s forgiveness is barely mentioned. His name, in fact, is barely mentioned. And you can tell that your friend is struggling, struggling to know whether his faith is real, struggling to know whether he’s elect, struggling to know whether he’s really acceptable to God. So you introduce this person to real Gospel preaching, Law and Gospel preaching, preaching that shouts and screams of God’s undying love. You put that bread of life in your friend’s trough. And he doesn’t eat it. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t respond the way the people do in our reading from Mark, where they rejoice to hear real, authoritative preaching. Instead, he pushes it aside and goes back to the vain speculation, the Christless twaddle, the seven effective principles for fixing your family and living with intentional purpose blah blah blah. Why? Why won’t they respond to comfort and authority like our Lord’s Galilean audience?
In a way, I think the sunk cost fallacy offers us an answer. If you’re not familiar with the term, the sunk cost fallacy refers to the phenomenon where people will keep trying a failed strategy because they’ve already invested so much into it. And they’ll keep doing it, even when a much better option is staring them in the face. So when it would be cheaper for you to buy a new car, but you keep paying to fix the one you have because you’ve already sunk so much money into it, that’s the sunk cost fallacy. And spiritually speaking, people do this all the time.
You see the scribes of our day are often a bit more clever than those of Christ’s day. Those of Christ’s day made it seem impossible to pry open the arms of God. Those of our day make it seem like you’re just one more step away from making yourself worthy of God’s love. Just read one more self-help book. Just follow one more principle. Just listen to one more of the guru’s sermons and you’ll finally have the assurance and the certainty and the proof that God loves you.. So when you present them with a better word, a clearer confession, they can’t imagine giving up on all the work they’ve already put in. “I’m this close, I’m almost there, I can’t afford to overhaul my theology at this point.”
It’s certainly discouraging when you see this happening, when you see people who are fifty million miles away from keeping God’s law laboring under the delusion that they’re just one step away from glory. But don’t give up on them. Don’t write them off. Instead, wait patiently. Because the day may come when they realize how far they are from making themselves righteous. The day may come when they finally see that they’ve thrown all their time and hope into a bottomless pit by trying to pry open the arms of God. And in that moment, they’ll need your faithful confession. They’ll need you to point them to a faithful preacher, to authoritative teaching. They’ll need you to tell them what you already know: That Jesus Christ has fully and freely opened the arms of His Father to them when He opened His own arms upon the cross and died.