Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reason cannot tell us what we need to know.

Becker, p. 42

For Luther and for anyone to whom the greatest question in life is "How can I find a gracious God?"  and whose sense of sin is overpowering, so that he cannot have any real peace of mind until he has found the certainty of forgiveness, such unstable knowledge of God is of little use.  Luther saw no profit in knowing God as Aristotle knew him, as "a being separate from his creatures and contemplating his creatures within himself," and so he asks, "What is that to us?"  the god who is known to reason on rational grounds Luther calls a Philosophical, Aristotelian God, and he says of this God, "He means nothing to us."  (Nihil vero est ad nos.)  To a long and learned defense of the existence of God based on rational arguments, Luther might well have answered, "Yes, yes, brother, what what of it?  Even if we could prove beyond question that there is a God, we would still not know what we need to know."  

p. 46

In seeking an understanding of Luther's position in this matter, it is necessary also to remember that for Luther the important question is never this:  "Is there a God?"  to ask that question, for Luther, constitutes the kind of blasphemy of which no honest man would make himself guilty.  What man needs rather is an answer to the question, "Is God my God?  Does he love me?  Does he care for me?
Luther writes:  Therefore it is not enough, and cannot be called a worship of the true God, if we worship him as the Mohammedans and Jews and the whole world without God's Word and faith boast--that they worship the only God, who made heaven and earth, and so forth.  Up to that point you have come to know neither his divine essence nor his will.  That there is a God, by whom all things were made, that you know from his works,... but God himself, who he is, what sort of divine Being he is, and how he is disposed toward you--this you can never discover nor experience from the outside (das kannst du nicht von auswendig ersehen noch erfaren). 
This ties into the Bondage of the Will.  In matters of the gospel and true knowledge of God we are blind as bats.   Blind, deaf, dumb, dead, ignorant.  Since we don't know it, we can also not chose it.  Once we hear the gospel proclaimed, however, it has its powerful effect of giving us hope.  Even then it is a scandal and it is the Spirit who draws us.

In other matters-- such as the law--though limited, there is a light of reason which operates of its own accord, but it tells us nothing we really need to know about God.

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
Publishing House ( All rights reserved. Reprinted with


Brigitte said...

I have two thoughts on this:

1. Can the Calvinist know, beyond all reason, and simply by faith, that he has a gracious God?

2. This connection of natural theology and reason as opposed to revelation of the gospel, featuring our complete inability and ignorance and hence the full gift of God--is it not a completely different emphasis than the sovereignty of God? Of course, God is sovereign and we are grass. But the central question is: Do I have a gracious God?

This question is not one that is throw up because God will damn a whole bunch of people and what will happen to poor me? But it arises because "by nature" we all know that we are guilty, damnable--the law does its work through "reason." To have a "gracious God" is to learn something about God, that "reason" cannot tell us, that he has made available a way out, not so much that he will chose some and not others.

Brigitte said...

Steve and I have been commenting at nakedpastor, where are often offended by the posting.

But I just notice this there.

It fits here, I thought.