From “The Parable of the Pounds,” The Waiting Father (1957)
If, like this servant, we propose merely to observe the world and its events and God’s role in these events we shall get nowhere. If there is one thing that is certain it is this: it is impossible to “know” God by saying that first we will observe life and analyze history and then, in case we should happen to find him in this way, we will take him seriously, be active in his cause, and make him the standard of our life. It is just the other way around: only he who takes God seriously ever knows him at all. Nobody else ever knows him.
But how is one to take him seriously if one knows nothing about him? My answer to that would be this: One should deal with God in exactly the same way that the master dealt with his servant. The master said to him, “I will condemn you out of your own mouth.” He is saying, “I am meeting you and discussing this on your own level.” In exactly the same way, we should say to God, “I will convict you out of your own mouth. I shall take your own words and they will either overcome and convince me or I shall beat you with them and show up your absurdity. These are your words, ‘Cast all your cares on me, for I care about you.’ Very well, I’ll do it and try at least once. I have cares and anxieties; I am anxious about tomorrow and about next week. But for once, I will not read my daily and weekly horoscope and instead, I’ll pour out my fears before you. I’ll put you to the test, O God. You ought to be worth an experiment to me. I shall see whether this (real or imaginary) hand of yours will really bring me through tomorrow and next week. I’m going to find out for myself whether you really do smooth out the rough places on the road, whether you really will be my rod and staff in dark valleys, whether in those darkest moments of all, when I can see neither bridge nor road, neither shepherd nor staff, I shall lose my trust in your guiding hand.”
Taking God seriously means taking him at his word and giving him to act the way he has said he will act. We can never receive anything with closed fists or drooping hands. We must at least stretch out our hands and “open our mantle wide” (Luther). Perhaps we shall even have to pray in this wise: “O God (if there be a God), on the strength of thy word (if thou didst speak it), I pray thee (if thou canst hear), forgive me my sin, be with me in my fears, comfort me in loneliness, show me my neighbor, make my heart burn with love; and in every time, good or bad, the high points and the bitter, empty places in my life, let me feel thy hand, reaching out for me and guiding me, lifting and carrying my burdens, stroking away the care that marks my brow, and making death itself easy to die, because my heart can rest in thee. Tomorrow I shall rise and trade with my pound for thee and serve my neighbor as if thou didst exist. Then shalt thou break the silence and suddenly be near to me. Then shalt thou say: Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord!”
This is the way it is with God. “When we listen, God speaks; when we obey, God acts.”
So let us give him the chance to prove himself. “Him who comes to me I will not cast out,” says Jesus Christ. That’s his word and he died for it. So seriously did he take us. He deserves to be given a chance.
Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. An opponent of the Nazi regime, he played an important role in reestablishing religious and intellectual life in postwar Germany, founding the theological faculty at Hamburg while also pastoring the city’s main church, the St. Michaeliskirche.