-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Althaus on Faith and Command

Here are some more statements from Paul Althaus. I will respond to them in my final post on the law. The focus is on the relation of faith and the law.

"In the beginning, in the primal state from which we all derive, is the divine command [Gebot]. It is present as the reverse side of the offer [Augebot] with which the eternal love of God originally encounters man. Love's offer says: God wants to be for me; he wants to be my God. He has created me as man, and this means, for personal fellowship with him--for participation in his life in the partnership of love. Just as he, my God, freely gives himself to me, so he calls me also, in his offer, to free self-giving. Thereby he calls me to be his image. Such is his love.

"God's offer, therefore, is at the same time a summons, an appeal, and a command: namely, that I should let him be what he, in his love, wants to be--my God. The command is grounded wholly in the offer; it is wholly borne by God's gift to us. It is this gift that stands at the beginning: God's wanting to be for us. The offer, not the command, is primary. But precisely because this is an offer made in love--love that seeks me as a person--this offer, this gift, necessarily (with the necessity of God's love) becomes also a summons. God cannot be my God in a saving way unless I let him be my God. Otherwise the nature of the personal relationship, as God himself intends it, would be contradicted. He calls me to trust him above all things. This is offer (promissio) and at the same time summons, commands, and call.

"It might well be asked whether it is advisable, from a theological point of view, to designate this appeal of God which accompanies his gracious offer to man by the word "command"--whether the connotations of this term are sufficiently distinct from those of "law." Emil Brunner speaks in this connection of God's "claim on man," or his "summons": "Man cannot receive the love of God save through being commanded to accept it, and in being claimed by God." Our use of the term "command" corresponds to the usage in I John 3:23, where in faith in the name of Jesus Christ is indicated as the content of "God's commandment." According to John, the gospel of Jesus Christ is at one and the same time a gospel and a commandment. This is to say that faith, although it is won from man by God's love, is nevertheless also man's personal act, in and through which he gives, and must give, God the glory (Rom. 4:20). It is in this respect that faith is obedience (Rom. 1:5, 10:3). The notion of "command," then, corresponds to a basic element in the gospel; and if the term is appropriate here, then it surely appropriate also to describe God's original relationship to man. However, we shall find it useful to substitute the word "appeal" or "summons" for "command" from time to time, in order to indicate all the more clearly the contrast with law, and to remind ourselves of the original meaning of divine command as the reverse side of God's offer.

"Thus the command promises life; it is a commandment eis zoen (Rom. 7:10). It calls me into life with God; that is, into freedom from the world, and into love, which is true life. So the command itself is a memorial of God's love for me.

""Command": this implies that another will confronts me, which puts my own will under claim. There is not as yet any opposition between the two, but there clearly is a duality. Unity between God's will and my own is something that has to be realized, over and again; it is not presupposed. The command is a word that stands over me, a word spoken to me. My situation, therefore, is that of one who has to ask, who has to listen, for a word which I myself cannot speak. The fact that God's will confronts us as command is not a condition that arises through sin, or on account of sin; it is an ordinance of the Creator. For God is my Lord. What exists "in the beginning," in the primal state [Urstand], is not a mystical oneness with God, nor an identity of will, but rather a duality: a duality, however, that in every moment is in the process of becoming a unity. But this "becoming a unity" takes place only in obedience. The command does not originate after the fall; it exists already before the fall." (The Divine Command: A New Perspective on Law and Gospel, trans. Franklin Sherman (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 8-10.)

"Man, however--and this is another feature of life under the law--fails to understand this situation. He conceals from himself that character of law as a strange word of God--its negativity, its secondary and prohibitive character, its meaning as a sign and shadow of our own past and continuing sin. He thinks that he can use the law in a positive way. The very law which in its form is an expression of the rejection and loss of salvation, and hence of man's state of hopelessness, is treated by man as if it were a means of salvation. He vainly imagines that through fulfilling the law he can repair his shattered relationship to God, that he can become righteous before God. He treats the law, in Luther's word, as justificatrix, as justifying.

"But this is not only a complete misinterpretation of the situation, as illusion (for no one, given the covetousness of the human heart, has been able, since man's fall from fellowship with God, to fulfill God's law), this very effort is itself further sin against God. Indeed, it is the repetition of the primal sin by which man fell away from God, namely, the effort to live before God by something other than God's own love, the love that precedes all our acting. This constitutes a misinterpretation not only of man's situation as sinner, but also of God's godhood and of man's creaturehood. God is God, and wills to be God--that is, to be solely and absolutely the Creator; the Creator not only of our existence but also of the worth and value that we have before him. Because God is God, the only possibility of man's living before him and having some significance in his sight derives from God's own free, unearned, unmerited favor. It is not only the sinner who is wholly dependent upon grace; the same is true of the righteous man--if there is or could be such. To deny this was and is the sin of the pharisee.

"The effort to recommend oneself to God and put oneself right before him by one's own achievements is blasphemy, as Luther put it plainly. It is an attack on the divine majesty of him who is and wills to be always the Creator, not only of our natural life, but also of our place as children in his house. Human ethics can never play the role of securing or preserving man's position before God. This position is something given to him by God's love; it is not earned, nor can it be earned. And this is true not only at the outset, but always; God's saving grace is always prevenient grace. Ethical righteousness as a pathway to salvation is not only an impassible, but also a forbidden, pathway. For to follow this pathway would be to surrender the relationship of childlike trust. This way can only serve inevitably to confirm again and again man's inevitable sinfulness. From beginning to end, it is an expression of his sin, indeed of the basal sin by which he fell and continually falls away from trusting faith in God's love." (The Divine Command, 16-17)

"Basically, to be sure, the Christian, in faith, is at one with God's loving will and rejoices in it. There is nothing he desires more ardently than that God's good and gracious will should be done in us and through us. But this basic oneness of my will with what God wills must become a matter of concrete experience in an ever new enacting of this oneness. The basic surrender must be expressed in ever new concrete acts of surrender. For the duality remains, the otherness and newness of the concrete will of God in contrast to my human expectations and desires. Again, this becomes plain to us in the figure of Jesus Christ. Even for him who as the Son lived in an unbroken fellowship of love with the Father, "my will" and "thy will" were two different things, as the prayer in Gethsemane reveals. Even though throughout his life he was of one will with the Father, nevertheless in every concrete instance he had to become one with the particular will of the Father, moving to such unity from the duality of "my will" and "thine." The fact that this was so even in Jesus' case demonstrates that this basic duality, this distinction between what we ought to do and what we ought to do and what we wish to do, is not as such to be attributed to, or regarded as an expression of, the sinfulness of our will. Rather it is given in and with the very fact that Creator and creature, Father and son, Lord and servant stand over against one another. Although Jesus "knew no sin," God's will still confronted him as an other--not implying that he was a sinner, but only that he too stood under God as his Lord. God's will is an "other" not only vis-a-vis our sinful desires, but also vis-a-vis our natural desires as creatures. . .This becomes especially clear when God's will calls on us to suffer. It is not the Creator's will that anyone should deliberately wish for suffering and death, weakness and failure. Nevertheless, God may sometime ask this of us, as he did of Jesus. (The Divine Command, 36-37)

In our opinion, this juxtaposition [between indicative and imperative] is an expression of the peculiar character of all human existence before God, and hence also of Christian existence. Paul's words in Philippians reflect this same duality: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure" (2:12f.). This means (1) we know that faith, and with it, the new life, remains always God's gift; and yet (2) we know always that we are called and are responsible to have such faith and to walk in this newness of life. Our being Christians is at every moment a gift of God, and likewise in every moment, from our standpoint and with respect to us, a task. Insofar as it is God's gift, we may and must describe our state as Christians as a state of being, which now simply operates and out of the power of God brings forth "fruit." This is a matter of the indicative. But faith and the new life--which from God's standpoint constitutes a state of being--are from the human standpoint only realized in that we are called day by day to act in accordance with the new manner of life i.e., to live in faith and love. Here the imperative element appears. It is not the case that we simply live and act as new creatures; rather, we are constantly called anew into this newness [N.B. This is where I feel Forde's understanding is lacking. Forde seems to see sanctification merely as an indicative process almost distinct from human experience. The duality of wills--God's and my own--, being confronted with God's Word, and the imperative nature of our fellowship with God is what is missing in Forde's understanding. On the other hand, I don't quite think Althaus resolves indicative and imperative satisfactorily either.] What we have the privilege of knowing as a state of being, insofar as t is God's gift, is realized over and again (in accordance with the way God has made us as persons) only as an act required in this moment.

"We may speak of fruits, whose appearing may be taken for granted if we are thinking of the faithfulness of God (I Thess. 5:23 f.; I Cor. 1:8 f.). He has begun a good work in us and will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6). It is he who makes me fruitful. But this trust in God does not abolish our own responsible character as persons, nor does it negate God's challenge to us, which calls for a response in continually new acts of decision.

"Thus our Christian life stands at all times under the double aspect of being and act, gift and assignment. The "being" is really only in terms of personal "act." But the very act demanded of us, we beg and receive from the faithfulness of God. It is this faithfulness on which the continuity of the new life is based.

"All this is true of faith as well, as we have already indicated. It too bears this double character. God effects faith in me; and yet the New Testament presents also the imperative: "Only believe!" (Mark 5:36; Luke 8:50). "Have faith in God!" (John 14:1). Faith itself is the object of an appeal, an imperative.

"We conclude, therefore, that the relationship between faith and works is not a causal one. Faith in not, from the human perspective, a state of affairs that simply works itself out in such a way as to lead with causal inevitability to the new life as its "fruit." This could not be the case, since I am continually called to have faith, and not to persist in unbelief. Faith itself stands under the same imperative as does action. It exists only in ever-repeated enactment. This enactment, however, takes place in terms of concrete deeds, of works. [Althaus is simply wrong here. Works do not enact faith or make it "concrete." Works may flow from faith and may be the natural outcome of faith, they do not, however, enact faith.] So it is not a relationship of causality that prevails between faith and the new life, but rather a relationship of immanence. As we have already stated, works do not follow from faith; but, rather, faith lives in works, in attitude and action.

"Therefore, if the new life of the Christian is pictured as "fruit," this must not be taken to imply an ethical automatism in the believer. Faith does not lead to action by virtue of a psychic compulsion. Such an interpretation would be a misuse of the image of fruit. This image can only serve to indicate the inherent necessity with which the gospel, as grasped by faith, presses to deeds of love." (The Divine Command, 40-42)

"In his Small Catechism, Luther describes faith as the source of life in obedience to God's commands by beginning the explanation of the first commandment: "We should fear and love God, and as a result. . ." In his Treatise on Good Works and in the Large Catechism he describes how faith does what the commandments say we ought to do and thereby fulfills. He demonstrates that the actions forbidden by individual commandments flow from mistrust of God and unfaith in Christ; similarly, he shows that it is faith that produces the righteous works which they command." (The Ethics of Martin Luther, trans. Robert C. Schultz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), 15.)

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