Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Freedom to Lament


In Luther’s Small Catechism it is sin, death, and the devil which cut off man from God. That God in turn, guards and protects against all evil “without any merit of worthiness in me” teaches ultimately that man has no freedom in regards to salvation. He is justified freely through faith alone in Christ. His free will remains in earthly matters, completely despairing of his personal assent, from the depths of sheol to the heights of heaven. Therefore man is either bound to the devil or to God. It is then only God’s role to save. Only after God frustrates one of his own disciplinary will and work can the Gospel encounter man in his bitter cry. Luther provides an unforgettable illustration, “So man’s will is like a beast standing between two riders. If God rides, it wills and goes where God wills…If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills” (BOW, 107). Man is incapable of saving himself from his looming death and defeat by the evil prince of this world – Satan and all his power. It is utterly ridiculous to assert man has much say in the matter. As a matter of pastoral care, having parishioners “make a decision” for which rider they should mount will always terrify their conscience and keep them enslaved to the hellish nature of their own will – a will which always hides and screams a resounding “no thanks” to God. It is only in God’s violent and ravishing claim in Christ crucified that the human heart is retrieved and recast in His own precious image.

Dualism must be set in its proper light however, when it comes to God and Satan’s competing claims on the human heart. The tension encountered must be approached in the confession that God is Lord of all and uses the devil for his own purposes. For God lets Satan loose on Job and sends all kinds of misfortune, suffering in body and soul, and death to humble the old man to despair in earthly work and turn to God alone. Only then can we begin to understand that the Lord God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5). Luther writes to his dying Father John Luther, “This life, cursed by sin, is nothing but a vale of tears. The longer a man lives, the more sin and wickedness and plague and sorrow he sees and feels. Nor is there respite or cessation this side of the grave.” (Letters p. 32 This letter was written Feb. 15, 1530 and sent to Father John Luther in Mansfield, Germany. John Luther died three months after this letter was written.). Luther, in a letter to Queen Mary of Hungary, seeks to comfort her in her bereavement for King Lewis whom was killed in battle: “Almighty God has at this time visited you, not in anger or displeasure (as we have every reason to hope) but as a trial and chastisement in order that Your Majesty may learn to trust alone in the true Father who is in heaven and to be comforted by the true bridegroom, Jesus Christ, who is our brother and, indeed, our very flesh and blood, and in order that Your Majesty may find joy with you true friends and faithful companions, the dear angels, and who ever surround and care for us.” (Letters58).


The short form of lament is expressed in the liturgy as the great Kyrie eleison. Our present day litany with our Lutheran Service Book we chant the threefold Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy, “For God can do nothing else; He must help the man who cries and calls…For hell would neither be nor remain hell if someone who is in it were to call out to God for help.” (WA 19, 222)

Bonhoeffer writes: "spiritual care, God wants to act. In the midst of all anxiety and sorrow we are to trust God. God alone can be a help and comfort. The goal of spiritual care should never be a change of mental condition. The mission itself is the decisive element, not the goal. All false hope and every false comfort must be eliminated. I do not provide decisive help for anyone if I turn a sad person into a cheerful one, a timid person into a courageous one. That would be secular – and not real – help. Beyond and within circumstances such as sadness and timidity it should be believed that God is our help and comfort. Christ and his victory over health and sickness, luck and misfortune, birth and death must be proclaimed. The help he brings is forgiveness and new life out of death." [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Spiritual Care, trans. Jay C. Rochelle (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), p. 30.

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