"And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we depend not on our own strength, conscience, mind, person, or works but on what is outside us, that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive."------Martin Luther
Recent Series on the various lutheran approaches to the Law
"Luther also discovers this kind of performative word in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, as well as in the Christmas story ("To you is born this day a Savior!"), the Easter story, and many other biblical passages. As we have said before, he regards these sentences as promises (promissiones). They are the concrete way in which Christ is present, and his presence with us is clear and certain: it clearly liberates us and makes us certain. I cannot remind myself of this freedom and certainty in isolation; I cannot have a monologue with myself. These gifts are given and received only by means of the promise spoken by another person (and not only by the official priest or preacher), who addresses it to me in the name of Jesus. I cannot speak the promise to myself. It must be spoken to me. For only in this way is it true. Only in this way does it give freedom and certainty.
"What this certainty is all about is clear from a short passage in the Lectures on Genesis that Luther virtually offers as a theological legacy: "I have been baptized. I have been absolved. In this faith I will die. No matter what trials and problems confront me, I will not waver in the least. For he who said: 'The one who believes and is baptized will be saved' (Mark 16:16), and 'whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven' (Matt. 16:19), and 'this is my body; this is my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins' (cf. Matt. 26:26,28), cannot lie or deceive. This is certainly true." In the Lectures on Galatians (1535) Luther writes, "And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves (nos extra nos), so that we depend not on our own strength, conscience, mind, person, or works but on what is outside ourselves (extra nos), that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive.""
-Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, trans. Jeffrey Silcock and Mark Mattes (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 130.
I thought this bit from Oswald Bayer's, Theology the Lutheran Way, went well with my previous post, Faith and the Promises of God. In it Bayer affirms the basic structure of a proper relationship before God, that is, in God's self-giving through the Word of promise and our receiving through the open hands of faith. This is what Bayer calls the vita passiva, the receptive life.
"Everything depends on God's performative word for the enactment of the promise of the forgiveness of sins and the healing of our ingratitude towards our creator. Since this word precedes our faith, our response of faith and prayer can never lead us to understand the divine service as a "self-realization of the church." Even as the response of the church faith remains God's work.
"The standard arguments from ecclesiology and sacramental theology resort to the category of "representation," and speak of the "self-realization of the church" and of the church as the "original sacrament." It is clear from this that the criterion of the particular divine service, which Luther vigorously promoted from the beginning of his Reformation theology, is not at all self-evident. For him, worship has to do with the enactment of the word and faith, of promissio and fides. This is classically formulated in the treatise, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520): "For God does not deal, nor has he ever dealt, with us except through the word of promise. We, in turn, cannot deal with God except through faith in the word of his promise." This asymmetrical correlation between word and faith, where the word always comes first and faith follows the word, is for Luther the criterion of the true divine service. At the end of his life he preached a sermon at the consecration of the castle church in Torgau in 1544. There he gave his famous definition of the divine service that beautifully exemplifies this criterion. He calls on the people to join him in the consecration "in order that the purpose of this new house may be this: that nothing else may happen in it except that our dear Lord himself may speak to us through his holy word and that we respond to him through prayer and praise.""
-Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, trans. Jeffrey Silcock and Mark Mattes (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 88-89.
Jesus in a couple of places gives a dual structure: in the first point "as you have believed (πιστεύω)," in the second, "so let it be to you" (cf. Matt. 8:13; 9:29).
Many other times, Jesus says, "ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέ σε," that is, "The (ἡ) faith (πίστις) of you (σου) has healed (σέσωκέ) you (σε)" (Matt. 9:22; Mark 5:34; 10:52; Luke 8:48; 17:19; 18:42).
Other examples we hear: "great is your faith; let it be to you as you desire" (Matt. 15:28); "If you are able to believe, all things are possible to the ones believing" (Mark 9:23); "Do not fear; only believe and she will be healed" (Luke 8:50).
On the reverse side of this we hear from Matthew and Mark, of the same account, what happened when people did not believe Jesus' witness: "He did not do many works of power there because of their unbelief" (Matt. 13:58); "He could do no work of power there, except He performed healing on a few infirm ones, laying on His hands" (Mark 6:5).
We also see examples where we are led to believe that if one has faith, that one can do great things:
We read the account of Peter who, when asked to step out on the water, loses faith and starts sinking; Jesus says, "Little-faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt. 14:31).
We hear of the account of the disciples not being able to exorcize a demon; they ask, "Then coming up to Jesus privately, the disciples said, Why were we not able to cast him out? And Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief" (Matt. 17:19-20).
Jesus says that if we had faith of a mustard seed we would be able to move mountains and throw them into the sea, curse fig trees and have them dry up, uproot sycamore trees and plant them in the sea (cf. Matt. 17:20; 21:21; Mark 11:23; Luke 17:6).
Jesus also tells us, "All things, whatever you ask, praying, believe that you will receive, and it will be to you" (Mark 11:24; cf. Matt. 21:22). As James (and James 8^j) reminds us, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (1:5-8).
I'm not concerned with the "miraculousness" of these examples, this is beside the point. What I want to get at is whether or not this portrayal of faith is the same as the Pauline portrayal and the Lutheran understanding of faith?
As for the second part of the question, whether this is consistent with the Lutheran understanding of faith, I think the answer is, unfortunately, no. As Lutherans, we often have a knee jerk reaction to anything that might make faith out to be a work. This is good, as far as it goes, but it often 1) doesn't get the full picture, and 2) leaves us scratching our heads when confronted with such verses from the Gospels. Lutherans say that faith is purely passive, and it is, but when we look at these examples things seem to get a little muddled. We can only be healed if we have faith? If, and only if, we have enough faith we can 1) walk on water, 2) exorcize demons, 3) throw mountains into the sea, 4) get what we pray for? Lutherans usually don't like talking about faith in a qualitative way; we talk about faith as that which receives God's grace of forgivness and salvation, and it would seem, nothing more. Indeed, this is certainly St. Paul's emphasis on his teachings on faith. But is it the whole story?
As far as a qualitative understanding of faith, we as Lutherans ask: How can it all remain a gift from God (i.e. healing, water-walking, mountain-throwing, etc.) if it becomes dependent on something qualitative in me, that is, faith? For this reason we simply say: faith is faith is faith, it is purely a gift from God. The problem is when we read in the Gospels, and it is brought into question: is it enough faith for healing? enough faith for walking on water? enough faith for exorcizing demons? enough faith for my prayer to be answered? We say in response: "If God wants to ______ he will do it, it is not dependent on me, he is certainly powerful enough. If he WANTS to do it, who am I to change his mind?"
In younger days when faced with this question I settled it in my mind, saying simply that: sometimes God makes the choice only to heal/answer prayer/etc. when there is an expression of faith. That is, sometimes he just heals to heal, while at other times he chooses to heal those who have a strong faith. So what Jesus would essentially be saying is: "I decided, this time, to heal you because of your faith." Just as he might have said at another time: "I decided to heal you because of your love/hope/(insert virtue here)."
This answer, though, simply does not fly. First off, why does Jesus repeat, "your faith has healed you," over, and over, and over? Secondly, why faith? Why does Jesus continually say "faith," not love, not hope, not ____? This second question is the kicker for me. It becomes clear that faith is not an arbitrary choice by Jesus, easily replacable by any other virtue. So the first major question, which we will get back to, is, why faith?
A second problem is: Yes, okay, faith. But certainly God heals/answers prayers/etc. in certain situations even without strong faith, right? He is not bound by our faith, right? And the more disturbing question: "God's not holding back on me, not answering my prayer/healing me/etc., because of a lack of faith, is he?" These can be very disastrous questions for people. They are questions, also, that don't have a ready answer in any given situation because, simply, we don't know the mind of God. My own general answers to these questions would be as follows: 1) Yes, God can and does do these things even without strong faith. 2) No, God is not bound by our faith. 3) We don't know the mind of God; it may not be his will to answer your prayer, etc., in the first place.
All of these questions, though, miss the point. They also miss the point of, why faith? They are questions that are focussed on me, not on God and his promises.
Paul Althaus once wrote (I'm not sure where), "I do not know whether I believe, but I know in whom I believe, and only thus do I know that I believe." The answer is God and his promises through his Word and Sacraments. What needs to be understood is that the basic and originally intended structure of our relationship before God was in God's self-giving through his Word and our receiving through the open hands of faith. This is a pretty basic understanding for Lutherans and is fundamental to understanding Paul: "We have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand" (Rom. 5:2). Therefore, whenever God gives through the open hands of our faith, this is a restoration of God's original will for creation. We see then, when Jesus says, "your faith has healed you," he is affirming the structure which God originally intended.
But the fact that God desires to give through faith does not mean that we should internalize everything and begin to wonder if we have enough faith; undoubtedly the answer we will find is, no, we don't. The point of faith is the promise, not ourselves. We repeat with Althaus: "I know in whom I believe, and only thus do I know that I believe." Left to ourselves we will never have a satisfactory answer. For this reason we look to the promises of God, including faith itself. We therefore pray with the apostles, "Give us more faith" (Luke 17:5); and elsewhere, "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). Or, as Luther put it, "Pray God that he may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do." (LW 35:371)
A proper understanding of all the examples cited at the beginning is to understand not faith, but promise. If it was a failed faith, Jesus says: "what about my promise?" (e.g. Peter walking on the water, or the disciples' inability to cast out a demon); or, if it was strong faith, we clearly see displayed the faith these people had in Jesus' witness and promise (e.g. "Your faith has healed you).
It is only when we realize that we can accomplish nothing of ourselves, that all the fear and torment of self-reflection and internalization ceases. Faith itself is a product of God's promise through the Word, not of ourselves. As Werner Elert characterized it, faith is an "infinite resignation." We need to realize that we are just like the sick coming to Jesus. They had absolutely no power over their situations--they were infirm, poor, and had no hope that anything would better their lot-- all they had was a promise of a man who was healing the sick.
May we all become more like Abraham, the father of faith, who "did not stagger by unbelief at the promise of God, but was empowered by faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what [God] has promised, He is also able to do" (Rom. 4:20-21).
I want to address the understanding of "faith" in the Gospels, as portrayed by Jesus. It is something I have pondered before and I thought it would be a good thing to address, especially within the Lutheran tradition. This is somewhat stimulated by some discussions on the Wittenberg Trail, one on prayer and the other on faith-healing. At first glance it would seem that the understanding of faith in the Gospels is not consistent with a Pauline understanding, and by extension, a Lutheran understanding. There is such an overwhelming pattern in the Gospel use of the term that it cannot be ignored and must be incorporated and explained within a Lutheran context. What one finds is that faith is almost always used in connection with healing, miracles, casting out demons, and prayer. This post will just give all the examples of this playing out. I will leave my analysis for another post.
The vast majority of the time in the Gospels, faith is presented as a reason for someone being healed or not being healed, whether or not one is able to cast out a demon, whether or not one's prayer is answered, whether or not one can cast a mountain into the sea or not. Besides a couple of times where Jesus tells someone that they are saved or forgiven because of their faith, it would seem that Jesus' portrayal of faith is not what we have come to understand it as, within the Pauline and Lutheran context. I have my own thoughts on this matter but would love to hear from my readers. How do you guys gel these things within your understanding? Do you know of any other Lutherans who have addressed this issue? If so, what were their conclusions?
Mat 8:10 And hearing, Jesus marveled, and said to those following, Truly I say to you, Not even in Israel did I find such faith. Mat 8:11 But I say to you that many will come from east and west, and will recline with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven, Mat 8:12 but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of the teeth. Mat 8:13 And Jesus said to the centurion, Go, and as you have believed, so let it be to you. And his child was healed in that hour.
Mat 9:2 And, behold! They were bringing a paralytic lying on a cot to Him. And seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed one, Be comforted, child. Your sins have been remitted.
Mat 9:3 And, behold, some of the scribes said within themselves, This One blasphemes. Mat 9:4 And seeing their thoughts, Jesus said, Why do you think evil in your hearts? Mat 9:5 For what is easier, to say, Your sins are remitted, or to say, Rise up and walk? Mat 9:6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to remit sins, then He said to the paralytic, Rising up, lift up your cot and go to your house.
Mat 9:22 But turning and seeing her, Jesus said, Be comforted, daughter; your faith has healed you. And the woman was healed from that hour.
Mat 9:28 And coming into the house, the blind ones came near to Him. And Jesus says to them, Do you believe that I am able to do this? And they said to Him, Yes, Lord.
Mat 9:29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, According to your faith let it be to you.
Mat 13:55 Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? Mat 13:56 And are not His sisters all with us? From where then did this One get all these things? Mat 13:57 And they were offended in Him. But Jesus said to them, A prophet is not without honor, except in his own fatherland, and in his own house. Mat 13:58 And He did not do many works of power there because of their unbelief.
Mat 14:29 And He said, Come! And going down from the boat, Peter walked on the waters to go to Jesus. Mat 14:30 But seeing the wind strong, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, Lord, save me! Mat 14:31 And immediately stretching out the hand, Jesus took hold of him, and said to him, Little-faith, why did you doubt?
Mat 15:28 Then answering, Jesus said to her, O woman, great is your faith; let it be to you as you desire. And her daughter was healed from that hour.
Mat 17:18 And Jesus rebuked it, and the demon came out from him; and the boy was healed from that hour. Mat 17:19 Then coming up to Jesus privately, the disciples said, Why were we not able to cast him out? Mat 17:20 And Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief. For truly I say to you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard, you will say to this mountain, Move from here to there! And it will move. And nothing shall be impossible to you.
Mat 21:21 And answering, Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, If you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do the miracle of the fig tree, but even if you should say to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, it will be so. Mat 21:22 And all things, whatever you may ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.
Mar 2:5 And seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, Child, your sins are forgiven to you.
Mar 5:34 And He said to her, Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be whole from your plague.
Mar 6:5 And He could do no work of power there, except He performed healing on a few infirm ones, laying on His hands. Mar 6:6 And He marveled because of their unbelief. And He went around the villages in a circuit, teaching.
Mar 9:23 And Jesus said to him, If you are able to believe, all things are possible to the ones believing. Mar 9:24 And immediately crying out, the father of the child said with tears, Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief! Mar 9:25 And seeing that a crowd is running together, Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, Dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, Come out from him, and you may no more go into him!
Mar 10:52 And Jesus said to him, Go, your faith has healed you. And instantly he saw again, and followed Jesus in the highway.
Mar 11:22 And answering, Jesus said to them, Have faith of God. Mar 11:23 For truly I say to you, Whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and be thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be to him, whatever he says. Mar 11:24 Therefore I say to you, All things, whatever you ask, praying, believe that you will receive, and it will be to you.
Mar 16:17 And miraculous signs will follow to those believing these things: they will cast out demons in My name; they will speak new languages; Mar 16:18 they will take up snakes; and if they drink anything deadly, it will in no way hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will be well.
Luk 5:20 And seeing their faith, He said to him, Man, your sins have been forgiven you. Luk 5:21 And the scribes and Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who is able to forgive sins except God alone? Luk 5:22 But knowing their thoughts, answering Jesus said to them, Why do you reason in your hearts? Luk 5:23 Which is easier, to say, Your sins have been forgiven you, or to say, Rise up and walk?
Luk 7:9 And hearing these things, Jesus marveled at him. And turning to the crowd following Him, He said, I say to you, I did not find such faith in Israel. Luk 7:10 And those sent, returning to the house, found the sick slave well.
Luk 8:48 And He said to her, Daughter, be comforted. Your faith has healed you. Go in peace. Luk 8:49 As He was yet speaking, someone came from the synagogue ruler, saying to him, Your daughter has died. Do not trouble the Teacher. Luk 8:50 But hearing, Jesus answered him, saying, Do not fear; only believe and she will be healed.
Luk 17:5 And the apostles said to the Lord, Give us more faith. Luk 17:6 But the Lord said, If you had faith as a grain of mustard, you may say to this sycamine tree, Be rooted up and be planted in the sea! And it would obey you.
Luk 17:19 And He said to him, Rising up, go! Your faith has cured you.
Luk 18:42 And Jesus said to him, See again! Your faith has healed you.
An amusing narrative interjection by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey (1818), with equally amusing evidence, validating this observation, from the pages of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina:
"They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other's train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding -- joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers."
I found the following from Anna Karenina quite amusing, in light of what we just read above:
"[Anna] read and understood; but it was distasteful to her to read, that is, to follow the reflection of other people's lives. She had too great a desire to live herself. . .She forced herself to read. . .[and not long after]. . .She laid down the book and sank against the back of the chair."