Martin Luther on God as Hidden and Revealed (Part 4)

In the last post I discussed how Luther wanted us to relate ourselves to God as He is hidden and revealed. Luther wanted people to avoid speculating about God’s hidden will, especially when it came to things like predestination and election because we simply do not have any access to God’s will in this regard. On the other hand, God has clearly disclosed Himself in His Word, the Bible, and wants us to find Him as He has revealed Himself and offers Himself to us there. This sounds like Luther would not have wanted us to be concerned about God as He is Hidden at all, but this is not the case. In Luther’s thinking, there were at least three things about the doctrine of God’s hiddenness that do concern us.

LUTHER’S CONCERN FOR GOD AS HE IS HIDDEN

One of the implications of this teaching was that men ought to trust in God for their salvation and not in themselves.1 This is one of Luther’s arguments in Bondage of the Will. Luther says that he is actually glad that there is no such thing as free will because then his salvation would be dependent on him.2 He says,

“But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him.”3

So Luther says that this teaching points men to trust in God and not in themselves.

Second, this teaching necessitates faith. It does this in two ways. First, because we must believe that God is good even though He doesn’t appear to be good. Luther says that faith consists of believing what we cannot see.4 “Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many […]”5 Luther teaches here that we are challenged to grow in our faith when we read in His Word that He is essentially merciful and yet we do not see Him exercise that mercy on a very high percentage of people.

Another way that this teaching necessitates faith is in understanding that God loves His children even though they experience many difficult trials. Luther repeatedly speaks often of this in the context of his teaching on the life of the patriarch Jacob, as well as in his teaching on Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers.6 In these passages, Luther constantly stresses that God doesn’t seem to be loving when He is constantly bringing trials into these men’s lives. In the context of Jacob wrestling with God, Luther says that God often gives us a promise and then hides from us. This makes us “beg, ask, knock.”7 Then we have to persevere because He does not always answer right away. We “overcome God” by our perseverance and faith, and in this way the hidden God becomes visible, by comforting us and doing what we ask.

So the hiddenness of God teaches us to trust completely in God for our salvation, and it necessitates our faith because we have to believe His Word when we can’t see it to be true. The third implication is that the hiddenness of God ought to lead us to worship Him. This is directly referenced in The Bondage of the Will. He says that “It is enough to know that there is in God an inscrutable will; what, why, and within what limits It wills, it is wholly unlawful to inquire, or wish to know, or be concerned about, or touch upon; we may only fear and adore!”8 Here Luther can be seen to teach that the hidden will of God is not something that should be avoided. Rather, it should be taught that it actually exists. But Luther says that “it is enough to know that there is in God an inscrutable will.” He does not see it as something that should be pondered incessantly, but something that should drive us to worship. It seems that after that, Luther would be comfortable with the idea that that worship should drive us back to the Word to trust and obey Christ as we find God revealed in Him there.

In the next blog post I will conclude this series with an evaluation of Luther’s teaching of God as hidden and revealed.

Footnotes:

1. This is more properly an implication of Luther’s view of election, but his view of election is in fact a subset of how he understands the hidden God who controls all things, so it is appropriate to list this as an implication of God’s hiddenness.

2. Luther, Bondage, 313.

3. Luther, Bondage, 314.

4. Luther, Bondage, 101. “[…] faith’s object is things not seen.”

5. Ibid.

6. Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Hilton C. Oswald. Vol. 6 of Luther’s Works. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970), 148, 236, 259, etc.

7. Luther, Genesis: Chapters 31-37, 259.

8. Luther, Bondage, 171. See also p. 176, where Luther says, “Nor is it for us to ask why He [wills to reprobate some], but to stand in awe of God, Who can do, and wills to do, such things.”

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