Please note I’m not saying the following aren’t Christians, but it is not a Christian response to respond with, “I know,” when someone speaks the Gospel truth to you, yet, this often the response I get. I say, “Jesus says, ‘I’ll never leave or forsake you.” The sick person says, “I know.” I say, “In Jesus’ name your sins are forgiven you.” The guilty person says, “I know.” I say, “Our Lord says, “Cast all your anxieties upon Him for He cares for you.” And the worried person says, “I know.” And the more they tell us pastors, “I know,” the more tempted we are to tell them something they don’t know in lieu of the Gospel.
Try the “I know” response in life. Your doctor says, “Take this medicine for your headaches,” or, “This medicine will help with your headaches.” Do you respond, “I know?”
Try the “I know” response in liturgy. The pastor says, “Our help is in the name of the Lord,” and the congregation responds, “I know.” The pastor says, “Take eat; this the true Body of Christ given for your sins,” and the communicant says, “I know.” The pastor says, “The Lord be with you,” and the congregation says, “I know.” (Come to think of it, that might be preferable to the ancient response (Now over twenty years old) of, “And also with you.” LSB editors said they kept this absolutely wrong response because via Vatican II and LW it had become so well accepted.)
Try the “I know” response in love. You wife says, “I love you,” and you say, “I know.” You say, “I want to be with you forever,” and your fiancé says, “I know.” Your wife says, “I’m pregnant,” and you say, “I know.”
When people tell me “I know” in response to my comforting them with the Gospel, applying the Gospel to their life, or even to a statement of the Law, I don’t think they do know. I think they are in effect saying, “I have that information, and right now it’s not doing me much good.” Not surprisingly, the people who are most likely to respond with “I know” are the same ones most likely to tell you how strong their faith is.
A couple of things to say here: It should not surprise us that people who have been reared in the Lutheran Church-Methodist Synod should emphasize their believing and the Gospel as information. This is what we expect from the Reformed. Since some Reformed deny a universal atonement, and others say their accepting of that is what saves them, and they all deny that the Spirit is attached to Word and Sacraments, they must look inside for certainty of salvation. They pull the dipstick from their heart and measure the amount of faith (Catholics measure the amount of grace.). In crisis, they have to find faith there or they’re toast. For the Lutheran, grace is in God’s heart not theirs and the object of faith is more important than the amount. Lutherans look outside of themselves where God promises to meet them graciously: in Water, Words, Bread and Wine. Lutheran faith hangs its hat on God’s promises: visible and verbal. When you state a Gospel truth, you are giving the person something outside of himself to hang his faith on.
For the Lutheran the Gospel isn’t merely or mainly information. It’s Spirit and Life. The pastor preaching, teaching, administering the sacraments, or giving pastoral care is not imparting information but the grace of God in Christ. He is “gifting” the person. What is the proper response when you’re given something? “Thank you.” Unless of course you don’t think you are or know you’re really not being given anything. Then you wouldn’t say, “Thank you.” Of course, when you really know you’re being given something great, instead of saying, “Thank you,” you might say, “Amen!” That is, “Yes, yes, it shall be so.”
In light of the above, we could say, “They’ll know we are Christians by our thanks.”
This is an excellent post. You hint at a great virtue of using liturgy in pastoral care: it stops the “I knowing” before it even starts. I’ve found that often, after the benediction at a sick or shut in Communion visit, the person says “Amen” and almost immediately then says, “Thank you.” Absolution and Communion “do the Gospel” to us in a way that is unmistakably clear and “un-I-know-able.”
Thank you for the fine words.