The Theology of Martin Luther

By Paul Althaus; Robert C. Schultz | Go to book overview

4
GOD IN HIMSELF AND GOD AS
HE REVEALS HIMSELF

FOR LUTHER, there is a contrast between man's attempt to find and know God on his own and the knowledge and encounter which God gives through His word, and this contrast is of decisive importance. This dieme runs through Luther's entire theology, in all phases of its development, and Luther repeatedly discusses it.1

1 The following discussion in this chapter is based on the passages here
quoted, which are illustrative of the several points made.

“Some through their speculations ascend into heaven and speculate about
God the creator, etc Do not get mixed up with this God. Whoever wishes to
be saved should leave the majestic God alone—for He and the human creature
are enemies. Rather grasp that God whom David [Psalm 51] also grasps. He
is the God who is clothed in his promises—God as he is present in Christ.…
This is the God you need. May you as you are yourself never be confronted by
the unclothed God.… We know no other God than the God clothed with his
promises. If he should speak to me in his majesty, I would run away—just as
the Jews did. However, when he is clothed in the voice of a man and accom-
modates himself to our capacity to understand, I can approach him.” WA 4011,
329 f.: cf. LW 12, 312 f.

“Every word of Scripture comes from the revealed God. We are able to
grasp him in a specific place to which he is bound by his words. Thus the God
of the children of Israel was in the temple in Jerusalem, in the promises, and
in specific signs. In the same way, we do not now discuss a vagabond [vanum =
vagum (?)], naked God but rather one who [has clothed himself] with definite
signs in [some specific] place.” WA 40II, 386. Cf. the same passage in its
more extensive version, WA 40II, 386; LW 12, 352.

“God also does not manifest himself except through his works and word,
because the meaning of these is understood in some measure. Whatever else
belongs essentially to the Divinity cannot be grasped and understood.” WA 42,
9; LW 1. 11.

“It is folly to argue much about God outside and before time, because this
is an effort to understand the Godhead without a covering, or the uncovered
divine nature. Because this is impossible, God envelops himself in his works
and in certain forms, as today he wraps himself up in baptism, in absolution,
etc.” WA 42, 10; LW 1, 11.

“It is therefore insane to argue about God and the divine nature without
the word or any covering.… Whoever desires to be saved and to be safe
when he deals with such great matters, let him simply hold to the form, the
signs, and the coverings of the Godhead, such as his word and his works. For
in his word and in his works God shows himself to us.” WA 42, 11; LW 1,
13. [Luther is referring to God's historical “works” in redeeming his people.]

“But those who want to reach God apart from these coverings exert them-
selves to ascend to heaven without ladders (that is, without the word). Over

-20-

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