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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






07 July 2005

What Have You Learned, Dorothy?


A: The Tin Man’s question of Dorothy near the end of The Wizard of Oz may be one of the most famous queries in the English language. Glinda the Good has just told Dorothy that she’d always held the power to go back home; however, she wouldn’t have believed Glinda. “She had to learn it for herself,” the witch tells the Scarecrow. What she had to learn is that true joy and peace were to be found in her backyard, or, as she learns to say in departing, “There’s no place like home.” The Scarecrow (“I should have thought of it”) and the Tin Man (“I should have felt it in my heart”) were unable with either superior intellect or boundless compassion to find her way home.

So why bring up this question now? It's simple: Today we face again the murderousness of international Islamic terrorism. Here in the States, as we look in horror at London, we also look back at the terrorist airplane attacks on the United States. After almost five years, we continue asking ourselves, each other, the FBI, the CIA, the military, and all our government officials, “What have you learned?”

If you listen, you’ll see that all “learned” many different things, some true and valuable, some false and worthless — even damaging. We don’t even know everything we might have learned as we either ignore evil or see threats under every bed and in each dark closet. Our top officials can’t agree on policies toward Al Qaida or Iraq. Some citizens wonder about the competence of a government when terror alert levels change with no reason given.

Since the Church is in the world, even if not of it, the Christian also asks himself, “What have you learned?” Some have “learned” that their God might not be so perfectly good or powerful, since he allowed the deaths in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, London, and elsewhere to happen. Others have “learned” that God must have a special plan for them, since they were spared. Many have “learned” that differences among religions aren’t all that divisive, and if we cooperate more, such incidents will one day be things of the past.

Like Dorothy, these people learn these things for themselves. Unlike Dorothy, what they learn won’t take them “home” to live with God forever. Oz is a fantasy land. Hollywood conjured a fable based upon a written work of fiction. In it, Dorothy and her own experiences become her teacher. In “real life,” we need a real Teacher. We need one absolute truth in order to find the place where we belong.

Those who dismiss or blame God ignore His tender mercies which are new every day. They dismiss the sacrifice of his own innocent Son — the only completely innocent Person who ever lived. Yes, the people in the towers, the planes, the Pentagon, and in the London subways and bus were victims. However, they were also frail, weak, sinful human beings. Like us, they rightly deserved God’s wrath and punishment for their disobedience. Yet God did not punish them; even as He allowed their deaths, so He also welcomed believers to eternal life. He was neither less than good nor less than powerful. He allowed terror to occur yet still showed miracles of rescue, the value of courage, and the need to be right with Him before our last hour comes. If we deny God’s justice and judgment, then we also deny Him as Savior. If we accuse God of weakness or of evil, we tell Him that we don’t want to go “home” because it, and He, aren’t good enough for us.

Those who think that God somehow “likes” them more, or that He has “special plans” for them just because of survival ignore the simple fact that often the wicked prosper more than the righteous. Osama bin Laden didn't die in the crashes and collapses; he remains at large, still plotting against Christianity and Western culture. Does this mean God loves them more than those whose lives ended? Did he find more favor by encouraging cowardly murder than did the brave passengers who stormed the final plane’s cockpit? Nonsense! Again, those who “learned” that survival equals God’s favor (so must death mean His wrath?) have learned a false and misleading lesson. To think this way is to think that you are already “home” when actually you are traveling farther and farther away.

And what do we make of those who try to downplay religious differences? They recommend praying arm in arm and heart to heart with Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and others. They encourage Christians to stop thinking of Christ as the only salvation for sinners; indeed, they often downplay or dismiss the sinfulness that all carry. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. (John 14:20)” Truly, “there’s no place like home” when home is living with God forever. However, there is only one Father and one home. Jesus continued by saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (14:6)” Those who don’t believe in Christ are traveling to the wrong eternal home.

In times of national pain, we may try avoiding the fullness of God’s truth. It’s an unpleasant fact that many people, including some we love, will not receive an eternal home with their Creator because they deny His Son. But rather than minimizing the differences between false religions and Christianity, believers are empowered and encouraged to boldly and plainly speak the truth: There is no salvation apart from Christ Jesus. Instead of pretending that the pain people feel now is the most severe hurt imaginable, Christians know of hell’s reality and want no one to experience damnation because of their own inaction. We want no one to “lock herself out of the house” when Jesus stands as the Door, ready to open for all who believe in Him.

What have we learned? Never enough, that’s for sure. Yet our loving God never stops teaching, confronting, accusing, loving, and forgiving us. Everything that He does in the believer’s life is for the purpose of bringing that believer home.

This trip is much more difficult, yet much simpler than Dorothy’s. We don’t have to learn it for ourselves; God teaches us. We don’t have to do anything, not even click our heels together and say, “There’s no place like home”; Jesus has already done everything for us and for our salvation. Yet the trip is also much more difficult because while Dorothy got back home in one piece, God insists that our sinfulness be torn away, drowned in Baptism, crushed by His Law, and cleansed by Christ’s blood. But the true difficulty belonged to Christ Jesus. He already knew the Way home; He was and is that Way. Yet when Satan tempted Him to take the easy route, to go back home without sorrow, suffering, and death, Jesus rejected that path. He didn’t click His heels and disappear. Instead, He spread His arms, poured out His blood, and called sinners to live in a palace he prepared for us.

NB: A slightly different version of this appeared at the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

What have you, a child of God and believer in Christ, learned? There is “no place like home,” and as the old hymn says, “Heaven is my fatherland; heaven is my home.”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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