Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thoughts on Luther's Genesis Lectures

(I took this picture January 08 - shows seminary campus overlooking pond)
God reveals himself for us through coverings. By His gracious will He comes through means – wrapping Himself in Baptism and absolution, also giving His very body and blood. In this way we may be most sure of all that He promises when His perfect and trustworthy Word is attached to these coverings. Luther writes, “It is folly to argue much about God outside and before time, because this is an effort to understand the Godhead without a covering, or the uncovered essence” (AE 1:11). Feverishly looking for the uncovered essence or the “naked god” follows a road wrought with countless corpses and burning souls. It is in this quest for “god” that man finds not the gracious Lord but Satan.

What is supremely unique about the word of the Lord in light of other cosmologies is that man in made in the image of God. Mythological creation accounts in the East make mere “playthings” out of people for the amusement of the Gods. The creation of man out of nothing, from the mere dust of the ground would seem less grand if it was not the Lord who breathed His breath of life into man’s nostrils! The intimacy of sharing the very breath of God is profound beyond understanding. This closeness that God intended us to have with him is intimate beyond any earthly or imaginative speculation. Our “creatureliness” is established in our moving parts, truly a being dependent and joyously obedient to God. Given that man is created from dust and yet given the breath of life makes his very essence and being thoroughly and beautifully governed by the Word of God. The Lord withholds nothing from Adam. He is given all that which is good for him. Luther writes, “Therefore the image of God, according to which Adam was created was something far more distinguished and excellent, since obviously no leprosy of sin adhered either to his reason or to his will. Both his inner and his outer sensations were all of the purest kind. His intellect was the clearest, his memory was the best, and his will was the most straightforward – all in the most beautiful tranquility of mind” (AE 1:62). God’s gracious activity and blessing are given to Adam out of fatherly love and goodness. Likewise the new Adam in Christ is birthed in the holy waters of Baptism where the old man is put to a certain death. The breath of life is granted in the waters of Baptism through his word. Furthermore we eat the bread of heaven in His flesh. We drink the blood of the Lord where we receive life, strengthening our faith.

Concerning the nature of sin and its consequences Luther writes, “I hold that before sin the sun was brighter, the water purer, the trees more fruitful, and the fields more fertile.” In this way, those things which the Lord gave for our good, “for us,” due to sin have been made at enmity with ourselves. The Lord says, “cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen 3:17). Because of this sin God changes many things. The elements become a source of evil to man and the beasts of the earth are no longer harmless and obedient to him. Paranoia, fear, hatred, sickness, and ultimately death now govern the daily activities of man. Luther sees all this as a result of the fall whereby Satan preaches to Eve in a like manner that God preaches to Adam (AE: 147). In this way the most grievous offenses come in the name of the Lord. Satan works through villainy and lies which in turn are imitated by heretics. Those who wish to deceive likewise come with sly arguments that appeal to the baseness with lies in the hearts of men. What is notable in not the power of Satan, heresy, and evil but rather the depravity of the human heart which is ultimately inclined toward those things in opposition to God. Sin causes us to live lives in total contradiction to God. Thankfully by the Lord’s infinite grace and kindness faith is given that we might believe in his saving work in Jesus where we are drowned and made new in his likeness.

Eternal life, perfect freedom, righteousness, holiness and wisdom are all given to man – those traits which are shared by his Lord. We can be confident that apart from sin he was in fact godly, loving God wholeheartedly with no fear or anxiety, but rather having perfect peace with his dear creator. This harmony with the Lord would make all creation subservient to man for his great benefit. Due to the fall nature and the elements of the universe have become violent terrors for men. Adam knew God, walked with him, trusting in his goodness. All Christians continue to walk with God through the means which he has given us. Luther describes our present “walk” with God after sin as the “preaching of another life than this one, to give instruction about the future Seed, about the head of the serpent that will be crushed, and about the kingdom of Satan that will be destroyed” (AE 1:344).

We must acknowledge that when it comes to imagining this divine state before God we fall far short. Luther describes our faculties as “leprous,” “dull,” and “utterly dead.” We cannot conceive of this perfect and beautiful man of God apart from the Gospel. We will not know until the passing of our frail earthly lives or Christ’s second coming. It is clear though that we were created to have knowledge of God and continually worship him. This is all for our great benefit. Throughout the creation account the Words of the Lord continually tell us “behold it was very Good.” It is the sweet word of the Lord that likewise says “for you” in the Words of Institution.

In the creation account the seventh day marks the Sabbath, which is given for rest that the Lord might work in us. As a creature of worship, Adam had the best liturgy of all. The divine service for Adam was the business of life itself. Communion with God was the essence of His life. Luther describes this most ancient Divine Service: “It is useful to note also that God gave Adam Word, worship, and religion in his barest, purest, and simplest form, in which there was nothing laborious, nothing elaborate” (AE 1: 107). There exists no slaughter of animals or sacrifice, no burning of incense, no “divine service setting three.” The Sabbath day remains for His church which is marked by Christ continually healing and restoring creation. Luther sees the Sabbath as resting on the seventh day when God spoke with Adam, giving him directions concerning worship, coupled with the warning to avoid the tress of knowledge. Concerning this exchange Luther writes, “This is the real purpose of the seventh day: that the Word of God be preached and heard” (AE 1: 81).

This continues in the Divine Service today whereby Christ remains our chief liturgist. The Lord continually breathes the breath of life into our nostrils with his very Word. The command of rest on the Sabbath is a clear sign of the life after the present one. All these things concerning the Sabbath have been accomplished by Jesus in his birth, teaching, bitter suffering and death, and finally in his glorious resurrection. We now partake in that glorious rest in the mighty fortress of the church, the magnificent ark which passes through the waters of Holy Baptism. This passage is a union with Jesus, from his Holy Word – given in his very Body and Blood.

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