The Problem of the Hiddenness of God in Luther’s Theology

[Since I just recently uploaded a paper that Pat Roach wrote on the concept of divine hiddenness in Martin Luther’s theology of the cross, I thought it would be worth re-posting his summary and a link to the paper: The Problem of the Hiddenness of God in Luther’s Theology.]

One of the most important contributions to Christian thought made by Martin Luther is his theology of the cross.  In this theology we learn that God hides Himself in His revelation, for the purpose of drawing out faith in the person.  The living and true God has most powerfully made Himself known to humanity in an unlikely way and in an unlikely place – the cross of Jesus Christ.  The scandal of this revelation is that this is not where we would reasonably expect to find God.  The all-powerful maker of heaven and earth has not made Himself most fully known by categories of reason, or by a display of raw force.  Instead, God has revealed Himself in the opposite of these things, in the weakness of His crucified Son.

But for Luther there is a second way in which He speaks of God’s self-concealment.  The Lord not only hides Himself in the revelation of Christ crucified, but He hides Himself outside of His revelation as well.  This second hiddenness is God hiding behind and beyond revelation in the mystery that forms His work of saving some and damning others.  It is in this mysterious, inaccessible realm of hiddenness where “God himself” exists, beyond His word, and not in it.

There is an apparent tension between these two kinds of hiddenness. If the concealed God of the second hiddenness is the real God, free and unbound in His will, and unknowable as He truly is, this seems like an altogether different God than the one revealed/hidden in the cross, i.e. the first hiddenness.  The God revealed in hiddenness in revelation is gracious, calling all to know Him in the His crucified Son, for it is there that salvation and mercy is found for humankind, unexpected as it might be.  But the God who hides Himself outside of revelation, seems altogether different.  He is the one who in power and incomprehensibility chooses some to be His elect, and reprobates others to damnation – and for reasons that are unknowable, inscrutable, and apparently unrelated to His self-revelation in the cross.

In my paper , I examine the key sources for understanding Luther’s theology of God’s hiddenness, The Heidelberg Disputations (1518), The Bondage of the Will (1525), and The Commentary on Genesis (1535-1545), to show how the doctrine unfolds and develops throughout his ministry. After considering these primary sources, I will look at how this tension in Luther’s theology has been addressed, along with their strengths and weaknesses.  Then I will give my own attempt at providing an answer for how the first hiddenness relates to the second hiddenness, by looking at Luther’s view of the role and function of faith in the Christian life.

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