My church has seized upon October conveniently having five Sundays this year, and has been going through a series on the 5 Solas of the Reformation–the five Latin sayings which summarize why Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago today, and around which Protestants today still rally.
The month of October has been largely a lonely one for me, though not necessarily for sheer lack of people. At the end of September, there was a fire in the clinic where I work that has launched me unexpectedly into a protracted job search featuring long stretches of time at home by myself.
I’ve simultaneously felt pulled in a million different directions (“I should finally write a book!” “I should exercise more!” “I should deep clean this room, or decorate that one!” “I’m going to do so much hand lettering!”) and in the miserably downward-on-my-couch-bingeing-Netflix direction. I suffer from that perfect mix of being highly externally motivated and highly aspirational, meaning that while I have made long to-do lists and dreamed big dreams, without an outside driver to make me actually cross anything off, I easily end up doing nothing and feeling miserable when I compare that nothing with all I hoped to do.
I have felt simultaneously restless and indolent, caged for so long the muscles I need to venture out are beginning to atrophy. After a long stretch of inaction, rather than being propelled by my guilt I have sometimes felt constricted by it, at once extremely anxious at how much I’m not doing or haven’t done, and paralyzed at how much there is to do.
In this setting, I am so grateful for these five little solas, who for their brevity can comfortably shoulder so much.
Sola Scriptura — that only what is written in the Bible can be the final authority on who I am, what I’m here for, and what I’m worth. That for all my inner narrative lets me know I’m worthless because I’m not accomplishing anything, my inner narrative not only should submit to Scripture–it will, and this is something to hope in as I struggle with guilt or anxiety. Meanwhile, as I struggle with paralysis and laziness, I recognize that unlike the empty words of TV shows or online listicles, the words of Scripture are powerful, able to change my very being and my heart.
Back in Luther’s day, it was the church’s Scripture supplementation which undermined so many people’s pursuit of God. Today, we might not be looking to the extra opinions of a random bishop, but we look to the clerics of our culture. We believe that we must be beautiful, productive, wealthy to be worthy. Sola Scriptura reminds us that none of these are true, and helps us anticipate the debunking of these myths by the final authority of God’s Word.
Sola Fide — that only through complete, childlike dependence and faith in Jesus have we any hope for redemption. I want so badly to work, to achieve. But rather than telling us that the Kingdom of God looks like a high-powered executive, Jesus points to a child–awash in her own drool, hands in the dirt, not only incapable of adding any immediate value to the world, but happily dissolving existing value. What’s struck me of late is how children love to destroy; a reliable hit game with every toddler I’ve met involves building some kind of structure so that said toddler can tear it down.
It’s so paradoxical that the God of all creation would point us to such destructive creatures as our model of what it means to be apart of his kingdom. And yet it is the very ability of God to build and rebuild in the midst of our destruction which showcases his glory. So as I have felt mourned the slippage of time through my fingers, I take comfort in knowing that instead of my future being dependent upon what I can build, I have only to rest in what God has built.
Sola Gratia — that God grants salvation completely undeserved and unearned, that in fact when we were in immeasurable debt to him he not only cancelled our debt but give us AAAA standing with him, 800 points and access to all his coffers. For the past month, I’ve tried to venture out into coffee shops from time to time–I’m in one now–but have felt guilty for spending money when I’m not earning money. I’ve realized though that part of the grace of giving means lack of stipulation on how that giving is spent. It’s a magnificent thing to have freedom in how you use a gift–a fearful thing, but a sign of the true lack of strings attached.
Somehow, the fact that God has not only given me freedom from condemnation but gives me freedom to spend my time and resources provides a humbling empowerment. I have been trusted, and I want to use that trust wisely–and when I don’t, that trust does not run out. In this season, I have been so grateful for the clean slate of every morning, the new grace that God provides to cover the mistakes of yesterday.
Solus Christus — that Christ alone provides the atonement, the penance, the intermediary for me to reconcile with God. I am so grateful not to have to depend on me, because this month has showed me how unreliable I am. Instead, I can look to him, consider how wise and unwavering he is, how he pursues relentlessly and gives himself utterly. I can forget myself in the beauty of him. I don’t need to add anything to what he has done–in fact, it’s insulting for me even to try–instead, I can relish in his accomplishment and lose myself in all he is.
Soli Deo Gloria — everything exists for God’s glory alone, and he doesn’t share. And it is a marvelous, wonderful thing that he doesn’t share. Because every ounce of man’s energies spent on glorifying anything else is a waste and a dead end. All of our worship poured onto others and all of our pursuit of other’s worship ends in emptiness, because we can’t help but ask for reciprocation from the objects of our worship. We can’t help but hope that whatever we glorify lives up to the hype, not only now but forever–we can’t help but want what we hope in to deliver on our hopes.
Nothing can satisfy all our hopes except God alone. So to point all our attentions and hopes to him is the best and only true investment of hope we can make. Part of the reason I have felt bruised this past month is because of the lack of glory going to me–no one is calling me doctor, no one is depending on me, I am not creating anything valuable or meaningful. I am forgotten in an anonymous empty living room. This is not bad because it’s bad to be forgotten, but because I don’t want to be forgotten in pursuit of my own glory–I want to be forgotten in pursuit of God’s.
I’m still struggling. But in a way I am grateful that this struggle has coincided with October 2017. I’m grateful for all the attention the pillars of the Reformation have gotten, because my attention on them is such a help to me.