God keeps secrets from you

If God were completely hidden, we would know nothing about him and have nothing to do with him. If God were fully revealed to us, we would be in heaven and see him face to face. There would then be no more question of God. Since neither is - entirely - true, we are dealing with both the hidden and the revealed God, and we have to think with Luther about how the two belong together. Incidentally, this task always arises, regardless of whether we - as is customary today - start our questioning about God with people, or whether - as Luther did - we start with God and ask about people from there.

For us a certain concealment surrounds God a secret, if only because for us as earthly creatures something like a natural separation and distinction from God is given. This is first expressed in its invisibility for us. We have no direct access to God, we have no direct experience or unbroken encounter with him. Even so, God remains hidden from us. Scripture knows this very well: "No one will live who sees me." (Exodus 33:20); "You can't see my face." (Verse 23).

Martin Luther: An inkling of God

Nevertheless we have an inkling of God, of his existence and his deity. Otherwise we would not ask about him and would not even be able to think or form the thought or concept "God". But our access to God is never direct, but always mediated through earthly traces and signs. His works of creation refer to him; for us they become images, signs and symbols for God. The Bible is therefore full of such figurative speeches from God (sun, cloud, castle, hand). Because of its invisibility and concealment, this figurative speech from God is necessary for us. But at the same time the figurative speech is also problematic, because in such earthly images we are not able to fully grasp God. They always only say fragments of its reality. In addition, not all pictures are really useful; some even falsify God.

Clear knowledge of God and self-revelation: Martin Luther

For a clear knowledge of God, we remain dependent on the self-revelation of God, the expression of which we find in the Holy Scriptures. God revealed himself for us once and for all in Jesus Christ. He is "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15). On the other hand, there is the experience of distance from God, of divine eclipse, of divine silence, yes, of hostility to God. We can no longer understand God in the face of misfortune and catastrophes, he seems to withdraw from us, he becomes a distant, strange, silent God for us, yes he even seems to become our enemy or no longer care about us.

This can then lead to an accusation against God, even to God being denied. Where this happens, we have come completely to the hidden God, and this experience of God is by no means strange today. Many know "the dark side of God". Against a naive, all too simple conception of the "good God", these dark experiences are always right and question them. It is part of the seriousness, depth and maturity and biblical realism of Martin Luther's belief in God that he knows the talk of the "hidden God" in his belief in God and expressly speaks of it and includes and considers it in his theology down to the last depth.

Martin Luther and dealing with Erasmus from Rotterdam

Luther was pushed to his statements by the dispute with Erasmus of Rotterdam. This great scholar, the spiritual head of the humanists, himself criticized the grievances of the church of his time and was therefore close to Luther. Luther owed the philological work of Erasmus to a new, better Greek text of the New Testament (1516) on which he was able to base his translation. However, the longer the two of them got together, the more it got into a crisis. Luther was too radical for Erasmus, while Luther was too hesitant for him.

There was, however, a factual dissent behind the differences in nature: Erasmus thought in terms of man and his possibilities, Luther proceeded from God; Erasmus remained quite medieval Catholic in that he did not take human sin so seriously. He considered man entirely capable of participating in his redemption. Luther, on the other hand, recognized the total forlornness of man and the total dependence on the grace of God.

Martin Luther: "You grabbed your throat right away"

This theological contradiction broke out in an open conflict in 1524 when Erasmus - to show the Roman Catholic Church that he was not a follower of Luther - wrote a book entitled: "De libero arbitrio diatribe" (Treatise on free will ). It was about a central theological question: whether man is capable of wanting and doing something towards God for his salvation. So he did not want to deal with the general, philosophical question of free will, but the special, theological question of man's freedom of choice vis-à-vis God: "By free will we mean the power of human will with which man is eternal Salvation leads, can turn to or turn away from it. "

Luther confirmed to Erasmus that by choosing this topic - in contrast to other opponents - he had hit the center of the dispute:

"I also praise and praise you extraordinarily for the fact that you were the only one of all the others to tackle the matter yourself, that is, the actual core of the matter. The only thing you have recognized is the crux of the matter and you have grabbed your throat straight away."

Erasmus cites passages for and against free will from the Bible and weighs them against one another - and affirms free will. His main argument is that he invokes the many commands the Bible gives to people to repent and do the will of God. Because this presupposes the free will of man. He thinks in terms of people, their possibilities and their responsibilities. Man should be converted, so he must have the freedom to do so. He concludes: "The main thing in religion is morality."

The Erasmus of Rotterdam approach is cutting edge

Erasmus's approach is ultra-modern, and it has made its way into the Lutheran Church today: He pleads for a skeptical attitude, for a balanced compromise, he is against firm assertions. He thinks a lot of people and little of God. He must have realized that this was a challenge for Luther.

The confrontation with Erasmus led Luther to think through and reveal the ultimate reasons and abysses of his Reformation belief in God. For Luther, Erasmus didn't really take God seriously. Luther was shocked at the cold way in which Erasmus spoke of God. Luther therefore tried to make it clear to Erasmus how things really stand with God's relationship to man, how great the distance is. Luther took his starting point from God and not from man.

That is why Luther emphasizes: Only God is absolutely free. That means at the same time: Man is unfree towards God, he has no free will towards God; he is unable to decide for God of his own accord and to do something for his salvation. God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent.

Martin Luther: Writing "De servo arbitrio" - On the unfree, enslaved will

Luther answered the provocative title of Erasmus "De libero arbitrio" in a harshly dismissive manner with his writing "De servo arbitrio" (On the unfree, enslaved will). If Erasmus had written in the sense that "the grace of God is the first cause and the will of man is the second cause in the attainment of salvation", Luther also opposed his "alone" here: God wants the salvation of man, God creates the salvation of him People in Christ, he all alone.

It is Luther's real intention to magnify and praise this grace of God and thereby give man the certainty of salvation and assure him of it. This is how Paul Althaus sees it: "It is a great consolation for believers that God himself works the faith in him." Luther himself confirms this for himself personally at the end of De servo arbitrio in a very moving way: "If it could happen somehow, I would not want a free will given to me. For if I lived and worked forever, my conscience would be never certain and sure how much it would have to do in order for God to do enough. But now that God has taken my salvation out of my will and received it into his will, and through his grace and mercy has promised to preserve me, I am sure and sure that he is loyal and will not lie to me, is also mighty and strong, that no devils, no adversity will overwhelm him or will be able to snatch me away from him. "

Erasmus sees people in a neutral starting position in relation to God, from which they could decide for or against God. Luther compares man to a riding animal in whose saddle either God or the devil sits and rules it.

However, Luther does not entirely deny human free will: he rather distinguishes between the things that are below him and those that are above him. Freedom of will therefore only exists in those things that are under him, that is, "in his temporal capacity and in his possessions", although even that is governed solely by God's free will, as he pleases. "In relation to God, or in matters concerning bliss and damnation, he has no free will, but is imprisoned, subjugated and a servant, either of the will of God or of the will of the devil."

God also works in evil

But since evil is also ultimately in the hands of God, Luther does not shy away from the consequence of saying: Because of the divine omnipotence, God also works in evil. Man remains, although not in such a way that he is the author of evil, but in such a way that God drives the sinner to act through his actions in the world, so that he can continue to be a sinner and act as such.

Luther's statements become even more pointed and problematic when he addresses the question of stubbornness - based on the figure of the Pharaoh: God does not force him to sin, but he knows that he will sin and become hardened in it; Luther treats the case of Judas similarly: "If God knew in advance that Judas would be the traitor, Judas necessarily became a traitor, and it was neither in his hand nor in that of any other creature to act otherwise or his will Of course, he acts according to his own will, not forced. But that will was the work of God, which he set in motion like everything else through his omnipotence. " Luther would rather accept this harsh speech than allow something to be cut off from God's omnipotence or dealt with.

Martin Luther: "Beyond his revelation, God is hidden"

Luther knows that this image of God is confusing, offensive and offensive. It arouses questions, arouses resistance and threatens to destroy trust in God's goodness. The hidden God takes on traits of an arbitrary god in his behavior, an almost demonic ruthlessness towards people, yes he becomes so uncanny that he no longer seems to be different from the devil. The image of God threatens to break apart.

Luther, on the other hand, made this paradox of divine action the subject of his theology by daring to speak of the tension in God, indeed the contradiction of the hidden and the revealed God: Insofar as God wraps himself in darkness and does not want to be recognized by us , it's none of our business. Luther finds statements about the actions of the hidden God in Romans 9 and in the Old Testament passages behind it, e.g. Exodus 9; Isaiah 45:15; Malachi 9.13. This boils down to: "Beyond his revelation, God is hidden".

Does the hidden God threaten the reveal?

But how does this God, hidden in his majesty and wrapped in the darkness of his omnipotence, relate to the revealed God? Doesn't the hidden God threaten the revealer? Does it really make sense to speak of this "hidden and terrible will of God" in addition to the Father of Jesus Christ?

It makes sense, because Luther thereby points to the limit of knowledge that exists for us as human beings in relation to God and that we must respect. What is decisive, however, is Luther's positive statement: We should seek God where he has revealed himself. That happened in his word, we can find him healing. "Now we can only look at the word, we have to leave that inexplicable will where it is." For Luther, Christ is the center of Scripture, not the commandments and admonitions, as was the case for Erasmus; that is why he calls out to him so provocatively: "Take Christ away from the Scriptures, what will you then find in it?"

What is important for us is God incarnate and revealed, the crucified, in whom all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God are hidden. "Whoever wants to know God and speculate from God without danger, look into the manger, lift up, and learn first of all to recognize the son of the Virgin Mary, born in Bethlehem, when his mother lies in his lap and nurses, or hangs on the cross, then he will learn fine who God is. Such things will then not be terrible, but most lovable and comforting. And beware of the lofty, flying thoughts of climbing out into heaven without this ladder, namely the Lord Christ in his Mankind, as the word dictates it, fine, simple-minded! Stay with him and don't let reason lead you away from it, and you will seize God rightly. "

Revelation of God is an act of freedom, according to Martin Luther

Nevertheless, it is also important and healing for Christians to know the dark background in God: we should fear and worship him in his divine majesty, leave him in his divinity and respect him. This makes us aware of the infinite distance between us and him again and again. It teaches us that God's gracious revelation is an act of his freedom, that he is free and abides in his grace that we can never claim or claim. It saves us from taking its revelation for granted.

All talk of the hidden God is therefore at the service of the preaching of the gospel of the revealed God. Luther wants to lead us to faith with this daring speech. This happens in such a way that by being afraid of the hidden God he frees us from all selfishness and then calls us away from him to the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ alone. We can stick to him.

Martin Luther: "You think too humanly about God!"

With Luther we have to repeat today what he said to Erasmus at the time: "You think too humanly about God!" Luther knew more and deeper things about God: from his own experience and from taking the testimony of Holy Scripture seriously, he grasped God in his terrible greatness and his salvation to people so wonderfully against this background as seldom.

Because that is what Luther says at the end as a grateful certainty: God in his humiliation in Jesus Christ. It is precisely the fear of the hidden God that teaches him and us to take refuge entirely in the revealed God and to find him there with his sweetness and warmth: "Now rejoice, dear Christians, and let's jump happily that we sing confidently and all in one with joy and love what God has addressed to us and his sweet miracle, very dear he has earned it. "

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