Monday, July 15, 2013

Fleeing from God not Preached to God Preached: The Shape of the Christian Life.

Before his death, Luther claimed that The Bondage of the Will and the Catechisms were the only things that he had written that were worth reading.  I think I have already article in my mind about how one should read them in light of one another, but that would be a much larger post.  What I'm interested in focusing on here is Luther's constant refrain in the discussion of the Ten Commandments "We should fear and love so that..."  How should we take this?  If we follow Luther's own words as a hermeneutical key (namely that the BOW and the Catechism are his best works and therefore a definitive representation of his thinking), "fearing and loving" should be understood in terms of Luther's own dialectic of the hidden and revealed God.

For those unfamiliar, in BOW Luther speaks of God preached and God not preached.  If we look at creation as a whole as a sphere of God's activity, the logic of God's action will appears incomprehensible to us.  Whereas God in his revelation in Word and sacrament states "I will not delight in the death of the sinner," God insofar as he works all things certainly does work death to sinners.  He of course does this for good reason: All are born with original sin.  The difficulty is that to some, through his electing will, God approaches through Word and sacrament, and converts, justifies, and sanctifies them.  Others (who are of course no less sinful), he does not work faith and works their destruction.  God therefore works within his creation through many divine masks (larva Dei), through some he redeems, through others he destroys.  There is no "thinking into" revelation (as in many Neo-Platonically inspired Christian theologies: Augustine, Barth, Aquinas, Calvin, etc.) to see why this is the case and not another situation.  God is not just incomprehensible, but actively hides behind his mask and (to use Forde's phrase) "shuffles" them at will.  This reality is a natural outgrowth of the dialectic of law and gospel: In some masks, God comes to us as law and in others as gospel.  Since the law and the gospel are actually opposites, there is no "thinking into" them.  Both are the will of God, but we actually can't see how they are internally coordinated in God's mind.  The best we can do is to see from the perspective of faith how the law drove us to the gospel and how Christ has fulfilled the law on our behalf.  Nevertheless, these are not realities latent in the law itself and so the mystery of the divine hiddeness remains.

Within this situation, what is the Christian to do?  Luther tells us that the revealed God of the gospel, that is, the God of grace, is God's real self (despite what might be considered evidence to the contrary!).  When we approach God hidden, or God under his masks of law, we can only find condemnation- something actually alien to God in his proper nature (opus alienum).  Consequently, we should flee from the God of hiddenness and wrath, to the God of grace, that is, from God not preached to God preached.  Nevertheless, if both are God, how do we know that God preached is the more authentic of the two?  In the Galatians commentary, Luther talks about God in his hiddenness and wrath condemning and destroying Jesus who bears the sins of the world.  The law (in a sense) tries to destroy the promise by condemning Jesus who has entered into solidarity with those under the God of hiddenness and wrath.  In spite of this, Jesus atones for sin, undoes the power of the law, and reveal God's true heart.  Since Jesus (the revealed God of grace) has gone up against the hidden God of wrath and law, and come out the other side victorious, those who are united with him by faith can also share in his victory and therefore have nothing to fear from God not preached. 

Faith clings to the revealed God against the hidden God, and therefore the shape of the Christian life of trust is fleeing from one to the other.  This can be observed throughout the history of salvation.  With Adam and Eve, God establishes his relationship with them through two trees- the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God attaches his promise to all the trees of the garden as means of mediating the good to them ("you may eat...").  He gives them the tree of life as a sacrament of immortality.  Nonetheless, he also establish the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as an alternative to the means of his grace.  This was not a test (Wesley, John of Damascus), or a means of earning their glorification (Reformed Federal theology), but rather a manifestation of the irrationality of God not preached.  In other words, the tree is in a sense inexplicable.  Why put the possibility of becoming evil in the midst of the good creation?  Such is a mystery, a manifestation of the hidden God.  Nevertheless, it was also formative of the obedience of Adam and Eve, which ultimately constituted a sacrifice of praise to God (Luther).  Finding God not preached through the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, structure of their believing existence was the fleeing from God not preached (that is, God of irrational, destructive condemnation) to God preached, i.e., his manifestation in the other trees of the garden and the tree of life.  They only enter into sin and condemnation when they sought God not preached and ignore God as his was manifested in his Word to them.

We can of course name other examples of this: Jacob is attacked by the hidden God by the river, but seeks the name and therefore self-donating gift of the preached God who had already covenanted with him.  Moses is attacked by God unpreached (for no apparent reason) on his return to Egypt, but his wife circumcises their son, and the attack is ended when God preached (that is, the God of the gospel manifested in the promise connected to circumcision) is sought.  Lastly, God unpreached is encountered on Sinai (much to the terror of Israel), but he establishes himself later as God preached in the Tabernacle and later on Mt. Zion as the preached God who (as John Kleinig has shown) sacramentally channels his alien holiness to the people.

Turning to the Catechisms, I would argue that when Luther speaks of "fearing and loving" God he is talking precisely about this fleeing from one God to another.  God not preached cannot be trusted, and does nothing but promote unbelief in his goodness by his irrational and terrifying presence.  And so one must seek God where he has given his Word and promised to be gracious.  Perfect faith means perfect obedience to God's Word because it means that we trust in what God is doing in his different masks that he has attached a word to.  This is why Luther states in his discussion of the first commandment that it is both the gospel (we need no other gods than God, because he is supremely trustworthy) and a summary of the law.  In trusting God as a gracious God, we trust what he says about all his creatures and the goods which he will give to us through them.  We trust that God has put parents and other authorities above us for our good.  We trust that God has channeled certain goods connected with our sexuality through marriage, and consequently we don't need to seek them elsewhere.  Finally, we trust that God will ultimately take care of us and so we don't need to covet, lie, or steal.  Hence, all the commandments demand faith in God, and each commandment is merely an illustration of what trusting in God looks like and what it does not look like.  If one looks to God not preached and away from God's promises to channel the good through his creatures that he makes in Holy Scripture, one will of course become terrified and unbelieving.  One will seek the good autonomously, apart from God's promises and consequently look for it in the wrong sources.  One will grasp at it, because this will be the only means of securing it.  One will in effect make themselves their own god through self-trust.  Hence, we must flee from God not preached ("fear") found in the inappropriate means of gaining the good, and cling to God preached ("love") in order to believe God's commandments.


  1. Dr. Kilcrease,

    It’s so timely that you bring this up. After converting over to Lutheranism that has been the constant thing I always wonder about, that constant “fear, love and trust” refrain. Trust is pretty straight forward but “fear” just always on face value seemed counter intuitive to “trust”. Even my young kids had picked up on that “Why should we fear God” they’d ask. For years I’ve asked and read and read trying to figure this out. Side not but related about Luther I’ve found, the more one reads and memorizes where you can (e.g. the sm. Cat.) the more the “connecting dots” and “lights” come on between items (e.g. the Lord’s Prayer and elements of the 10 Commandments or the Creed).
    But it was not until about two months ago I was pondering this on my way to work and in light of my own experience of almost loosing Christ in great despair (I cannot emphasize that enough) under the previous confessions I believed (Basically Calvin and the limited atonement). That drove me for years and literally many days almost jumping off of a literal cliff, I couldn’t sleep, work, you name it.
    Looking back on this it hit me two months ago. I said to myself (and later my wife), “I wonder if Luther didn’t mean the difference between God hidden Vs. God revealed “pro me”, because that kind of fear, loosing Christ and not know if God is for me, i.e. basically elected to hell and “stuck”, I get that, that makes a lot of sense and the term “fear” would be the greatest understatement in the world.
    I shelved the thought for further consideration and your post here is like a breath of confirming air. At least so far, I'm still reading, but your inital thoughts struck me so very familiar.


  2. Dr. Kilcrease,

    This seems to go a long way in helping use understand the whole third use of the law or the law in general. I’m trying put it all together and my old Baptist then Reformed journey/background seems to hinder me though. I have some questions if you have time. I’ll number them just to keep it neat. I’m trying peel apart primarily the Law uses, primarily 1st and 3rd Reformed (even evangelical more broadly but Reformed is more formal I suppose) Vs. Lutheran.
    1. Is, then, our confusion with the third use really a confusion of the first use and that maybe because even many of us Lutherans have a Reformed view of the even the 1st use? Here’s what I mean. I use to study to death the Federal Theology and even helped teach SS classes at our PCA related to it. I had the honor of many good helps directly from Kim Riddlebarger on this. I read Kline, Witsius and others. And of course the over arching or what I call the Reformed/Calvinist developed “super structure” of creation > fall/redemption > glory is really basically Law (pre-fall, Adam created in a state of uprightness before God was to fulfill the Law covenant of works to get to glory, he didn’t and the rest is history), then Gospel (as more or less the interim measure) > to glory law again in Calvin’s mind. So its Law > Gospel > Law. How Calvin(ist) see prefall I think is critical. Then there’s Luther that sees the prefallen condition as one of faith, not works needing merit grace via a covenant of Law. We quit trusting God preached and went to God unpreached. Then comes the Gospel and in eternity the blessed live eternally this way. I.e. all our righteousness always existed with God period and its never been a matter of “works”.
    With that in mind it seems that a Reformed understanding of the 1st use would be the “hammer of God” saying “You have not done the law” therefore you need Christ. But is Luther saying the hammer of God, 1st use, is not saying that its saying “that was never the use of the law but rather you are unbelieving in Who God is for you”?

    In short: Is the “reformed” way saying the Law says “do this and live” and the first use is crushing that we have not done THAT. Or is the “Lutheran” way saying the Law says “Be believing of what really already is (forgiven/righteous on account of Christ) and do not be unbelieving – for it is true whether you believe it or not” and the first use is crushing that we have not and gravitate to not doing that.
    2. Then is the third use, post Gospel, for the Christian basically in all its forms to good works: “Now since you ARE in FACT forgiven of God and He cannot change (in absolution, baptism, LS), then be believing and not unbelieving” or “quite acting like its not true for you” and thus we can suffer all things when God gives good things we are thankful, when we have to suffer want we can know, “it doesn’t matter in the end we have all in Christ”?
    Any guidance or help you can give would be MUCH appreciated because as a convert over from Baptist then Reformed this is confusing to me and sometimes I think I hear Lutherans returning to Reformed thought OR I’m missing something in the language because all sides use similar terms.

  3. Larry,

    These are all important thoughts and I am pleased that you found my blog helpful.

    I'll try to answer your question the best I can. To begin with, please forgive me, but I found aspects of your question a little confusing because I think that you may be using terminology in a slightly different way than I do. For example, "first use" of the law for Lutherans is the civil use of the law, whereas the second is the theological use. And for Reformed folks it's the opposite- and I think you might be using the terms in that way since you seem to be talking about the "first use" in the manner that Lutherans would talk about the "second use." You may not be, and so, if I've misunderstood you then I deeply apologize.

    I think you're basically onto something here. I would respond by saying that for the Reformed tradition in general (though I can't speak for every theologian), the fundamental, deep structure of the divine-human relationship is the law. I think one can deduce this truth from the idea of the covenant of works and primacy of the third use of the law. Whereas for Luther, the law is something which is obeyed by human beings as an expression of their trust in God's goodness. For the Reformed, the law is part of the divine-human relationshipis thought of in terms of a bilateral movement between God's goodness and a human response of obedience. And really, the law is the thing that is formative within this covenantal, rather than testamental worldview. Human should recognize God's otherness and respond to it with an absolute obedience. The gospel is good within this scheme essentially because it makes this way of interacting with God work, whereas sin impairs it.

  4. Dr. Kilcrease,

    Thank very much for the reply sorry about the confusion. You did understand me correctly and I apologize. I came from a reformed tradition (PCA) after Baptist (calvinistic), and I’m now Lutheran (LCMS). I always get those numerical orders of the uses confused because as you said in the Reformed the theological is the first (which is what I use to know) but Lutheran it is second and I for the life of me cannot ever keep that my head. Yes, I did mean second use (Lutheran, hammer of God, theological).
    If I might ask a follow up: Does that then mean that we can get the Law wrong altogether even what is the second (Lutheran)/first (Calvin) use? What I mean is this if one’s view of the prefallen state is basically the covenant of works “do this and live” scenario which is the root of federal/covenant theology, then it seems one would even get the second use (Lutheran) as the first use (Calvin) wrong in how it accuses and breaks the sinner. However, if your world view is Luther prefall in that the obedience is the natural expression of one trusting in God’s goodness, then it seems the second use (Lutheran) would be accusing, I’m not sure how to put it, in a different manner. The first would be accusing one’s rank i.e., “you didn’t do what you ought/did do what you ought not”, but the later would be driving deep into the heart i.e., “its not that you did/didn’t do but you really distrust God”.

    Maybe my experience might help. When I was in those confessions especially there were times when the Law would do that sort of what I might call superficial accusation, I felt guilty of some act I did or didn’t do that I should have or even I might have done outwardly right but inwardly I felt the begrudging. That accused as it were, but it would really operate more like “try harder next time”. But where the Law seem to strike deep into the soul and really lead to despair, at least for me, were in those moments when it would “dig past” the what I did/didn’t do right and get down to the nub of “because truth be known you don’t really trust God”. And that’s when it would get very terrorizing and God and Christ always seemed angry and abandoning of me. It didn’t help of course due to the whole issue regarding sacraments/ordinances, I didn’t have those to “run to” back then. So the despair would get exceedingly dark for days on end. It’s like when its just “you didn’t do what you should have”, it doesn’t stop you dead in your tracks so much. But when it gets deeper, my term, and says, “because you really don’t trust God” that’s when you get knocked off your “try harder” next time.

    It makes me wonder if that’s why King David said after his sin acts of adultery, murder, etc…to people, his actual confession out of his contrition is “I have sinned against God’. At first glance it seems like an odd confession since he did the evil deed to people. But the real sin was that he didn’t trust God, which drove the sin acts which seems to match what the prophet said when God said He would have given him every thing.

    Thanks again,


    PS: This is a stunning article you wrote. I keep rereading and rereading it.

  5. Dr. Kilcrease,

    You said, "I think I have already article in my mind about how one should read them in light of one another", I would love to read that. Because I've begun, about three months ago, after I'd been memorizing the sm. cat. in preparation to teach my kids to see some connections with BOW and the catechism and in particular the thought of the unpreached God Vs. preached God. So I thought, "I need to re-read BOW", because the last time I read it was about 6 or 7 years ago and I was at that time firmly a Calvinist and read it that way (basically the way Luther warns not to focus). Reading it afresh, I thought, and with the catechism in mind might yield something I'd never seen before.

    Ironically it was the "fear" in the "fear, love and trust" of the first commandment answer that began me thinking of this a bit back. I always thought that term seems at odds with the other two so what did Luther mean. Even my 7 and 6 year old at the time when going through it keyed in on that particular term. They got love and trust God but "fear" did not compute given the other two. The unpreached/preached God seems to peel that apart nicely.

    So I look forward to that post/writing when it comes.