Helmut Thielicke


Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.

Heb. 2:14 NLT

As a pastor, many parishioners ask, “How do you know that God cares?” We know God cares because Jesus came among us, he experienced our suffering, and he knew all our temptations and trials. God in Christ did not remain aloof, cast an disapproving eye, and remain indifferent to our desperate plight. Out of love, Jesus set aside his heavenly status and was rejected, betrayed, and humiliated. Jesus understands every life struggle that we have ever experienced or will ever face. Jesus understands everything.

Jesus Christ did not remain at base headquarters, receiving reports of the world’s suffering from below and shouting a few encouraging words to us from a safe distance. No, He  . . . came down where we live in the front line trenches  . . . where we contend with our anxieties and the feeling of emptiness and futility, where we sin and suffer guilt, and where we must finally die. There is nothing that he did not endure with us. He understands everything.

Helmut ThielickeChrist and the Meaning of Life, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper, 1962), 18.

 

[God’s] rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal.

All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him.

He does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth.

No one can stop him or say to him, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’

Dan. 4:34b-35 NLT

Trusting God is a challenge even for the most mature believer when our lives are turned upside down by situations that surprise us with deep pain and stun us with their sudden brutality  The Bible encourages us that God is there in the pain, he is acting, and he is loving. Our circumstances scream that he has forgotten us and does not care, but scripture assures us that we are not in the hands of men, but God’s hand is there, there in our pain. By the Cross of Christ, we know that God has experienced our suffering. By the promises of God, we know that we are held in the palm of his hand.

For how many a soldier in a concentration camp, weak with hunger and smarting under the whip of the torturers; for how many a person huddling in the last extremity of ghastly dread in a bomb shelter; for how many on the endless gray road of a refugee trek was it not the great experience suddenly to know: I am not in the hands of men, despite everything to the contrary; another hand, a higher hand is governing in the midst of all man’s madness and canceling all the logic of my calculations and all the images of my anxious sick imagination?

I am being led to the undreamed-of shore, the harbor, the Father’s house. And always when things grow dark, suddenly that marvelous helping hand is there. If there is anything that is really bombproof, then it is this, that God is there . . . “

Helmut Thielicke, The Waiting Father, trans., Robert Doberstein (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), 36. [paragraphing mine]

HT: Ray Ortlund


Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Phil. 4:6-7 NLT

Prayer is an ongoing dialogue-a real and intimate conversation-between the Abba Father of Jesus and us, his beloved children. Prayer is standing before God in a real and intimate conversation sharing our hopes, desires, fears, and needs with our Abba Father who loves us and cares for us (Gal. 4:6-7).

If I wanted to tell what I think is the greatest thing we can learn about prayer from the Bible, then I would say that the greatest is that we come into the presence of our Father through the conversation of prayer, that we taste his peace in the midst of all unrest, and that we attain a place to stand against everything that presses in upon us and threatens to get the best of us.

Helmut Thielicke, How to Believe Again (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1970), 99.

She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

Mark 5:27-29

Loneliness is a dull, depressing feeling. We may feel a strong sense of emptiness, solitude, and isolation. The woman with a hemorrhage was an exceeding lonely lady. Her condition lasted twelve years, twelve years of uncleanness, twelve years of isolation, twelve years of being ostracized, and twelve years of despair. She turned to Jesus, he took her uncleanness, and gave her life. “And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease'” (Mark 5:34 ESV).

A moment ago, I spoke of the time-bound idea that a woman with a flow of blood was considered unclean and that she was therefore shunned. Even the slightest contact would transfer this uncleanness to objects and other people. To that extent she was the bearer of a contagion and people had to be on their guard against her. Therein lay her abysmal loneliness–a loneliness which categories are scarcely adequate to measure.

Only when we are clear about that will will we be able to grasp the frightful and dismay-producing truth that she must confess: By her touch she made Jesus of Nazareth unclean; she had infected him. More than that, from her magic-oriented point of view, it appeared that when the miracle occurred she was suddenly freed from the burden of her uncleanness but that burden was transferred to him. He had been taken it over from her.

Helmut Thielicke, How to Believe Again (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970), 61.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Matt. 23:37

Grief involves deep and intense sorrow or distress over the death of someone or the loss of a close and important relationship. Grief is a reaction to a major loss: mourning, hurt, pain, anger are all apart of the grieving process.

God grieves for us, his children, when we refuse his help, ignore his will, and reject his explicit commands. He suffers with us and yearns to help, he died for our sins that we might be free to enjoy his love and companionship. Because God loves, he understands us, thus he suffers with us and for us.

This is just what I meant when I spoke of the grief or the tragedy of God on our account. All of us have experienced the fact that our grief for someone whom we cannot help because he will not let us help him is all the greater the more we love him. You grasp how great is God’s sorrow for you only when you realize how much you are loved and to what extent God is thinking about you . . . .

I have said that the suffering of God is so great because He loves us so much. Anyone who has a dear friend going to the dogs, and is unable to help us as he rushes step by step to destruction, knows that this is like death for himself, too. For loving means complete sharing, and the misfortune of the other means pain for oneself.

This is the meaning of Good Friday for the Son of God. He bears the guilt of the world. Perhaps this sounds very dogmatic. But we can understand it clearly enough, as men, if we only see that the heart of the Saviour beats with burning love for His lost and and unhappy children. And because He understands, he suffers with them.

Helmut Thielicke, The Silence of God, trans., G.W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), 70.

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

Luke 19:8 ESV

Do we really believe that Jesus the Christ can change lives? Do we believe that the crucified Christ can meet anyone in their sin, selfishness, and pride and conquer their hearts by his great grace, mercy, and love? The answer must be yes. The Apostle Paul declares,” For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16 NJKV). A face-to-face encounter with the resurrected Christ can change any heart, transform any life, break any addiction, and heal any pain.

No one leaves an encounter with Jesus Christ the same as when he came. For Jesus is the great transformer. A teacher of wisdom can’t manage that, because his goal is make himself superfluous. A student has no thanks for a teacher who never lets him graduate. But with Jesus Christ we go from one transformation to another. He gives us the brightness of morning as the day begins. He wraps us in his peace when the typewriters clatter and the telephone rings all day long. And in the evening I can let myself drop, because his hand is always beneath me.

He gives me joy in life and companionship in my final distress. And when I must stand in the final judgment, he will intercede for me because he has endured pain to draw me to himself and make me his own. The man from Nazareth stands between me and every shadow, for he had called me by name, he has brought me down from my airy spectator’s seat in the tree, and now there is nothing else in the world that can come between me and the final fulfillment of my life.

Helmut Thielicke, How to Believe Again , trans., H. George Anderson (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1972), 37.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

1 Peter 4:12 ESV

We live in the midst of the fallout of the fall: sin has affected every area of creation and all aspects of our lives. Disappointment, pain, and trouble are significant ingredients of our daily existence. Ill-timed, unexpected tragedies can shape our lives for the better or make our hearts hard through bitterness. Our choice: trust that God is sovereignly working or become angry that life is not going as expected. What is important in the midst of disappointment? Not whether we are suffering, but whether we know the suffering servant who has come into the world to meet us in our discouragement.

So it is not important whether or not misfortune befalls us, but whether we know the place of refuge and the space under the shadow of his wings (Ps. 57:1). It is not important whether we think we are being persecuted or that everyone is against us, but only whether the Head is our friend and we are beloved by God.

Helmut Thielicke, How to Believe Again, trans., H. George Anderson (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 99.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Heb 1:2-3

What do you see when you see Jesus? You see the Father’s heart. You see Calvary’s suffering. You see grace. You see love, embrace, and forgiveness. You see our prodigal lives returning to the father’s house. You see acceptance and approval not based on our performance, but based on Christ’s perfect righteousness displayed on the Cross.

“You are right,” he says,”you are lost, if you look only to yourselves. Who is there who has not lied, murdered, committed adultery? Who does not have this possibility lurking in his heart? You are right when you give yourself up as lost.

But look, now something has happened that has nothing to do with your attitudes at all, something that is simply given to you. Now the kingdom of God is among you, now the father’s house is wide open. And I–I am the door, I am the way, I am the life, I am the hand of the Father. He who sees me sees the Father. And what do you see when you see me?

You see one who came to you down in the depths where you could never rise to the heights. You see that God ‘so’ loved the world that he delivered me, his Son, to these depths, that it cost him something to help you, that it cost the very agony of God, that God had to do something contrary to his own being to deal with your sin, to recognize the chasm between you and himself and yet bridge it over. All this you see when you look at me!”

Helmut Thielicke, The Waiting Father: Sermons on the Parables of Jesus, trans., John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper&Row, 1959), 28. [paragraphing mine]

 

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Phil. 3:13-14 ESV

The future is that which will be; that which will exist at any time after the present moment; the next second is future as opposed to what has happened and is happening. For the believer, the future is not to be feared, but placed into the hands of an all-knowing, all-sovereign God.  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34 ESV). The Christian places his or her confidence about the future in a God who is all-loving, all-wise, and all-powerful. Believers are assured, not anxious about the future: the Cross has taken care of our past, present, and future sin.

Precisely this the curiosity of the believer: it means forging ahead and not looking back. If the believer is not afraid of the mystery of the future, it is not for any heroic reason, for he knows who ordains the future and who yet does not allow the future to become our undoing. The believer knows who sets the goals and guarantees them. In this knowledge the restlessness of all our thoughts and quests abate.

Helmut Thielicke, Notes From a Wayfarer: The Autobiography of Helmut Thielicke, trans., David R. Law (New York, Paragon House, 1995), 418.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. . . . He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 1:9, 2:2

Repentance is not turning inward, but turning around. Repentance is not self-condemnation, but Holy Spirit conviction. Repentance is grace in action: Jesus points out the areas in our lives that are wrong and he then releases, restores, and renews. Repentance is a change of mind that by God’s grace leads to change of heart which creates a change in behavior.

Repentance begins as a work of the Holy Spirit; he changes our minds convincing us that our actions are wrong and hurtful. The Holy Spirit’s conviction leads to brokenness over our failure resulting in an admitting of that wrong to the Lord (and to others, if necessary). Our confession opens the door of our hearts for the receiving God’s great forgiveness. The overwhelming love, mercy, and grace of God pours out into our lives bringing about a change in our behavior.

Repentance is the recognition that God is right and that we are wrong. We are wrong because we have broken God’s law; and as a result, our selfish actions have wounded God’s heart and hurt others. Repentance is not trying to prove to God our sincerity, nor is it a mechanism for earning God’s pardon. Repentance allows you and me to receive the forgiveness that was accomplished for us on the Cross two thousand years ago.

Repentance does not twist God’s arm to give us a forgiveness that he would otherwise be reluctant to release. Repentance is opening the door to a joy and a freedom that has already been given in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Repentance says, “Yes, Lord, your work on the Cross was for me and I receive it now without any qualification or hesitation.”

Jesus earned our acceptance before God, now receive it, and walk in it (Rom. 3:21-26). Be a great receiver!

Repentance in the Christian sense is not primarily concerned with doing ‘better’ from now on; it means returning home to him who has done all things ‘well.’

Helmut Thielicke, Being a Christian When the Chips Are Down (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), 43.

 

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