Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Parodox of the Lutheran faith

Much has been written on this blog about opposite perspectives on issues ranging from the role of women, fellowship principles, worship practices, sermon writing, and much more. A recent commenter had this to say:

In all our WELS piousness, we always forget a very important factor. WELS is an organization. We are humans. Sinful humans. So was Luther. So are each of our pastors. And in our sinfulness, no matter how biblically-educated we are, we are still limited in our understanding of God's word. We can never begin to know what God meant when he said the many things he did in his gospel. To think we can puts us at his level and into his mind. How blasphemous.

This thought brings me to my current dilemma because in these issues I see a paradox of thinking. In the Bible I see a paradox too. Jesus was both God and man which is the ultimate paradox. The commenter above alluded to the fact that as humans we are finite (limited) and God is infinite (unlimited) (a paradox). So I write as does the WELS and LCMS and others in a finite way about an infinite God. My slogan on this blog has been to be Lutheran is to always point to Christ. The Bible is a holy Book about a holy God read by sinful men (a paradox). Yet this Holy Book is meant to point to Christ. So my perspective as a sinful human being has been to try to have my life and church point to Christ through all things.

Yet, I must confess as Job does:

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. ..my ears heard you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:3, 5-6).

Therefore I see that I need to humble myself and repent of my finite understanding of God. My thinking is not clear on many issues in the WELS. Yet in conversations with WELS pastors, teachers, laypeople, and those on this blog it seems that the WELS (and others) cannot admit to the finite and limited view of God's plan. Don't misunderstand me. I don't believe we are free to do all things. I strongly believe that the historical church should not be abandoned. The Gospel of Christ is not a license to sin even though Luther told his followers to "sin boldly." The Gospel proclaims that we should teach everything that has been commanded and to do this boldly. Yet knowing that the meek shall inherit the earth.

So as I live as a sinner and saint I will embrace the paradox I am living through. I am a Lutheran learning the truths of God, yet as a sinful human being my understanding and knowledge is impaired. I believe that life emerges through death (a paradox) and that is the theology of the cross we must preach. The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth stand under the rule of God. In reading Luther I see that the sacred and secular spheres overlap but don't conform to the cut and dry distinctions that my finite mind is hoping to see.

In that respect, I find the debates we WELS love to engage in, to be tedious and trivial. Our "always-right," and "only-ones-who-are-right" attitude is often detrimental to the faith of others.

So this blog will remain a paradox of understanding and it will remain Lutheran as it points to Christ.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

You have written well and I commend you for your courage in doing so. Of course the historical church should not be abandoned. At the same time there are some funny things being said by some funny people who think that their funny ideas are dispositive of what the church stands for. Stand fast to your Lutheran belief about simul iustus et peccata est and you will stay on the right way.

Blessed are they who come to their studies in the name of the Lord.

Norman Teigen
ELS layman
[Disclaimer: I am a member in good standing of an ELS congregation in Golden Valley MN but I do not presume to be a spokesman for the little Norwegian Synod.]

Anonymous said...

"We can never begin to know what God meant when he said the many things he did in his gospel."

I'll say again what I said on the previous post. This is a direct denial of the perspicuity of Scripture. To say that we cannot understand the words of Scripture calls God unloving and is the first step to every false doctrine.

Anonymous said...

John, this blog has been helpful to me. I'm grateful for your efforts. I've learned some things and it has sent me researching other topics.

I recently confirmed a suspicion that others who might not post comments are reading this at times too. Whether they are tipped off by other readers or viewing regularly, I don't know. But I was informed that some of the WELS in authority were aware of the blog and even posts I have made.

So, though we can't understand it all, that shouldn't be cause to give up the quest nor fight the accompanying battles for truth. And as inefficient and prone to difficulty as this medium might be, it provides a forum for discussion for some of us with limited contact with other "confessionals crusaders."

Thanks for what you're doing.

Rob

Anonymous said...

anonymous said,
"I'll say again what I said on the previous post. This is a direct denial of the perspicuity of Scripture."

No, it is an admission of the corruption of the mind and will that remains in all Christians after baptism. Unless the Holy Spirit enlightens us through Word and Sacrament, we can and will know nothing of what God teaches in scripture.

anonymous said,
"To say that we cannot understand the words of Scripture calls God unloving and is the first step to every false doctrine."

No, God is not unloving because He denies enlightenment to those who are corrupt in mind and will through original sin. False doctrine occurs when we look to our own reason and strength for the interpretation of scripture rather than the work of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament.

Daniel Gorman

California on my mind said...

Daniel:

The argument that we cannot with our puny human minds understand the words of almighty God is an argument that has been used by liberals for decades. The thought goes like this: God is almighty and infinite. We are small and weak. Since we cannot even begin to fathom God's thoughts and ways, we can't even begin to fathom and understand what he has told us in his Word.

The problem with this approach is that it denies God is able to communicate clearly and succinctly with his creatures. If God can't get down on our level and communicate with us weak, msierable sinners, then he is no longer almighty, because there is something he is unable to do.

Anonymous said...

"If God can't get down on our level and communicate with us weak, msierable sinners, then he is no longer almighty, because there is something he is unable to do."

Yup exactly. It also means that he is unloving because it means that he purposefully gave us a book and told us to study it, knowing full well that we would never be able to understand a single word of it. It would be like saying, "OK, I know you're dying of this terrible disease called sin. Here's a book that explains the cure. Too bad it's in a secret code you can't understand. Oh well. Your problem, not mine."

The fact is that God has given us his Word as a light in the darkness. He has communicated with us in a way that we can easily understand. (Some of the concepts may be difficult to grasp or accept, but that doesn't mean God doesn't communicate them clearly.)

To accept false doctrine using the excuse that we could never hope to understand God's Word is ultimately blaming God as the cause of false doctrine.

Rick said...

"We can never begin to know what God meant when he said the many things he did in his gospel." This phrase does remind me of legal scholars who say similar things about the U.S. Constitution, and conclude this gives judges a license to legislate. I can sympathize with what the original writer was probably trying to say, but these words (especially when directed at fellow Christians) are gross overstatement. Christians can "begin to know what God meant," and are exhorted to grow in knowledge:

Paul's "letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:16-18). (See also Colossians 1:9-10).

We can grow in knowledge, we all need to grow in grace and knowledge.

strong in faith, weak in understanding said...

"We can never begin to know what God meant when he said the many things he did in his gospel."

I'm the person who orginally posted this comment and I feel my statement has been misconstrued and taken out of context. Please go back to the original post in the Palin discussion and read my complete comment.

You'll note that I wrote we humans are sinners. The fault in our lack of understanding the Bible is not in God's Word or how he chose to deliver it. The fault lies in me, in you, in everyone, because we are fallable.

Be real. Can you really say you understand all of Scriptures? Who can comprehend how God can be infinite, omnipotence, or omniscience? How could he create the world in seven days? How could Jesus live on earth and not sin? How can there be a Triune God? And yet, just one God? How can bread and wine be Jesus body and blood? And on and on.

Many of us asked these questions when we were children. Or maybe when we were new to faith as adults. And were there answers? Nothing that satisfies our human reasoning, that is.

Who says God has to give us something we can fully understand? And why would he be unloving if he didn't? Who are we to say what God's reasoning is or when he is loving or not?

God asked Abraham to show his faith when he commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Was he unloving to Abraham because he wasn't clear with his intentions?

God asks us to also have faith. The faith of a child, remember? He tells us we are blessed when we believe even that which we cannot see.

All those questions above are things we know because God tells us in the Bible. We believe because the Holy Spirit instills faith in our heart. We have grace because of Jesus' death. How loving is that!

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" Proverbs 3:4-6.

Anonymous said...

"Be real. Can you really say you understand all of Scriptures?"

No, you be real. You didn't say that we can't understand all of Scripture. You said that we "CAN'T EVEN BEGIN" to understand Scripture.

"Who can comprehend how God can be infinite, omnipotence, or omniscience? How could he create the world in seven days? How could Jesus live on earth and not sin? How can there be a Triune God? And yet, just one God? How can bread and wine be Jesus body and blood? And on and on."

Yes, these are things beyond our human comprehension. Yet, they are clearly taught in Scripture.

To follow your logic, we would have to say, "Well, we can't understand how Christ's body and blood are really present, so it doesn't really matter what you believe--you can believe they are there or not. Well, we can't understand the Trinity, so it doesn't really matter if you believe in it or not." Or to the original context, "Well, we can't understand these man/woman issues, so it doesn't really matter what you believe or do, 'cause, hey, we're all sinners, we can never even begin to understand." Saying such things is trifling with God's Word--always a dangerous sport.

"Who says God has to give us something we can fully understand?"

Umm, God? He tells us that his Word is a light. It is meant to give understanding. What it says is crystal clear (though, as even you admit, our limited minds struggle with some concepts).

Look, I don't think you're a heretic. I think I know what you're trying to say, you're just wording it in a really lousy way.