Friday, August 19, 2011

The paradoxical nature of Luther's thought

Becker, p. 119-121

It is a well-known fact that Luther's writings abound in paradoxical expressions.  This has helped to create the impression that Luther had no regard for the laws of logic or the regular processes of reason.

...Because of this, some have claimed to have discovered a spiritual kinship between Luther and Kierkegaard.  But to read these two men side by side is to detect a fundamental difference in spirit.  Luther never quite delights in paradox in the same way that Kierkegaard does.  It is difficult at times, when reading Kierkegaard, to escape the conviction that the Danish philosopher was quite proud of his cleverness in having discovered the paradox.  Furthermore, Kierkegaard makes human reason the judge of revelation.  He says, for example, "In a sense Paul too had a revelation, only that in addition he had an unusually good head."  This is just the thing that Luther condemns.  It is not man's good head that enables him to receive God's revelation, to say nothing about accepting it.  This comes about only by the grace of God.  It was Kierkegaard's
"good head" that undoubtedly misled him into what is basically a legalistic theology.

The evangelical Luther, on the other hand, is not proud of his recognition of the paradox.  He makes it clear that he had learned this art from the Apostle Paul.  He says that in Paul we regularly find such expressions as "I live,"  "I don't live,"  "I am dead,"  "I am not dead,"  "I am a sinner...

...The work of Christ exhibits this same characteristic.  When Christ began his great work of salvation, he became the most despised of all men, so far as outward appearance goes.

...When Christ set out to win a kingdom for himself, he went about it  "in such a way that all reason and sense must be offended by it.  Even the apostles could not understand it..."

The very same thing holds true in the life of the believer in Christ.  When God speaks in anger and punishes us, when he hands us over to our enemies, when he sends pestilence to us and hunger and persecution and other plagues, this is a sure sign that he desires our good and that he is well-disposed toward us.  But when he says to us, "I will no more punish you, I will say no more.  I swill take my zeal from you and let you continue in your opinion and do what you please,"  then this is a sure sign that he has forsaken us.

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

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