The grace of storm chasing

September 22nd, 2014

At the risk of alienating large segments of the Ministry Matters audience, I'm going to continue our conversation on Adam Hamilton's Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It with a Magic: The Gathering reference. Yes, I used to play. And yes, if I still had free time (i.e. no kids), more disposable income (i.e., fewer theology books to buy), fewer theology books to read (are you seeing the connections?), and fewer blog posts to write, I might still play Magic. Who knows? Maybe D&D too. And be in a folk-punk rock band. Definitely I would visit Taizé pronto and walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. But I digress.

You see, there is this Magic card called Storm Seeker.

Storm Seeker does one point of damage to an enemy player for every card in his or her hand. Given that players start with 20 life points in Magic and can carry up to 7 cards in hand, a well timed Storm Seeker can establish the trajectory of a game, turn it around decisively, or finish it resolutely. The right storm is like that. It changes things. Just take a look at this tornado video from some scared storm chasers. 

To seek the storm, to chase the tornado, you have to be daring, and possibly a little crazy. You hold your life in your hands doing something like that.

Wesley was just such a storm chaser. He pursued the God whom Scripture calls a consuming fire. He wanted to glorify God with his whole life, all his thoughts and actions.

As Rev. Hamilton tells us in Revival chapter 3, Wesley's zeal accentuated a tension many Christians experience: the tension between living a holy life (and calling others to do the same), on the one hand, and trusting the good news that God saves us by grace alone through faith, on the other. (Read my post on chapter 2 to get a taste of the rigor of Wesley's spiritual life.)

Rev. Hamilton says that he suspects Wesley's zeal for perfect holiness was a contributing factor to his decision to pursue missionary work in Georgia. See, Wesley had never been on a ship before the day he began the three month voyage to America. And Wesley was a bit terrified of the ocean. Alas, the ship did encounter storms:

For Wesley, the Atlantic storms demonstrated the inadequacy of his cerebral and often works-oriented faith. On January 25, 1736, he recorded in his journal the climax of these storms at sea: the mainsail was in tatters, waves washed over the ship, and the water “poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up.” He observed that the English passengers were screaming in terror, as he was, but a group of German Moravians calmly sang a psalm (63-4).

In the decision to come to Georgia — to give himself to God even in areas of oceanic fear — Wesley decided to chase the storm. And suddenly he was in it. The storm rocked his world. It revealed the weakness of his faith, in contrast to the spiritual calm and assurance of the Moravians' faith. And the storm was only beginning when the ship arrived safely in Georgia. The details are fascinating, their result unambiguous: "He returned to England a complete failure" (67).

Game Over, John Wesley.

Well, not quite.

"We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).

In the terror of the storm God plants seeds and rearranges Wesley's life, preparing Wesley for the very good works God has prepared for Wesley to walk in.

The point I want to emphasize is that it is not that Georgia is all folly and Aldersgate is all grace. It is not that Wesley's unbalanced works-righteousness personality is opposed to grace, that there is no grace in Wesley's desire to glorify God completely and please God, and then God finally gives the grace and the Holy Spirit with the assurance at Aldersgate. It is grace, not lack of grace, that makes Job walk the line and ask the questions and get put in his place by God in the whirlwind (Job 38). God wants to change Wesley at Aldersgate, and so God gives Wesley the grace to pursue God crazily in his own unbalanced way (just as each of us has our own individual crazy unbalanced way). For all we know, the Pharisees and Scribes may be living utterly in the throes of grace, such that it is grace upon grace when the Son of God reads them the riot act.

What do you think?

I think the grace of storm chasing prepared Wesley for the grace upon grace of Aldersgate.

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