GOD’S WORKS APPEAR EVIL

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Although the works of God are always unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits [Luther – Heidelberg Thesis #4 of 28] 

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LUTHER’S SUPPORTING STATEMENT [verifiable HERE (note 1)]

 That the works of God are unattractive is clear from what is said in Isa. 53:2, “He had no form of comeliness”, and in 1 Sam. 2:6, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” This is understood to mean that the Lord humbles and frightens us by means of the law and the sight of our sins so that we seem in the eyes of men, as in our own, as nothing, foolish, and wicked, for we are in truth that. Insofar as we acknowledge and confess this, there is “no form or beauty” in us, but our life is hidden in God (i.e. in the bare confidence in his mercy), finding in ourselves nothing but sin, foolishness, death, and hell, according to that verse of the Apostle in 2 Cor. 6:9-10, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as dying, and behold we live. And that it is which Isa. 28:21 calls the “alien work” of God “that he may do his work” (that is, he humbles us thoroughly, making us despair, so that he may exalt us in his mercy, giving us hope), just as Hab. 3:2 states, “In wrath remember mercy.” Such a man therefore is displeased with all his works; he sees no beauty, but only his depravity. Indeed, he also does those things which appear foolish and disgusting to others. This depravity, however, comes into being in us either when God punishes us or when we accuse ourselves, as 1 Cor. 11:31 says, “If we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged by the Lord”. Deut. 32:36 also states, “The Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.” In this way, consequently, the unattractive works which God does in us, that is, those which are humble and devout, are really eternal, for humility and fear of God are our entire merit.

MY OBSERVATIONS re: GOD’S WORKS APPEAR EVIL

For the supporting statement I have included a link for verification. You will see Luther really did write this – asserting that God’s actions always appear unattractive and evil to people. Once again, we are up against some extraordinarily inept biblical hermeneutics. Whilst these theses are nowhere near the polished articles of the Protestant Faith, the latter stands or falls on Luther’s initial insights – whether they are remotely rational and above all scriptural . So, do God’s actions ever appear evil and unattractive from a human perspective? – Absolutely, having His own Son crucified will appear worse than foolish to the unenlightened. Having become enlightened it becomes an act of love almost beyond human imagining. But to imply that all God’s actions  appear evil to man is an insult to God’s intelligible goodness and the dignity of those made in His image. Luther cites Isaiah 53 which is undoubtedly referring to the coming Messiah – that He had no form of comeliness. But reading through the gospels it becomes evident that many ordinary people delighted in the Saviour’s actions of compassion, healing and forgiveness. The previous post/thesis referred to certain religious leaders who Jesus referred to as whited sepulchres (Mt23:27), but note this observation from Luke, contrasting such leaders from the rest of the people:

Every day Jesus was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the Law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill Him. Yet they could not find any way to do it because all the people hung on His words (Lk19:47-48)

In the ministry and life of Jesus, people saw “the acts of God” and most found them neither unattractive nor evil. It was the religious leaders referred to above who ingeniously turned the people against their Messiah resulting in His crucifixion, which all reading this are likely to recognize was predetermined and essential to God’s plans.

DISTINGUISHING GOD’S WAYS FROM HIS NATURE

The reality is that some works of God do appear evil and unattractive: that is because God’s ways are not our ways (Rom11:33-34). But when it comes to God’s nature, that is intelligibly and gloriously good from an enlightened human perspective, such as that of the psalmist:

SHOUT FOR JOY TO THE LORD, ALL THE EARTH.
  Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before Him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is He Who made us, and we are His;
    we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving
    and His courts with praise;
    give thanks to Him and praise His Name.
 FOR THE LORD IS GOOD and His love endures forever;
    His faithfulness continues through all generations
(Psalm100:1-5)

Then there is the preaching of Paul addressing a pagan audience in Lycaonia:

We have come with Good News to make you turn from these empty idols to the living God who made sky and the earth and the sea and all that they hold. In the past He allowed all the nations to go their own way; but even then He did not leave you without evidence of Himself in the GOOD THINGS HE DOES FOR YOU: He sends rain from heaven and seasons of fruitfulness; He fills you with food and FILLS YOUR HEART WITH MERRIMENT (Acts14:15-17)

Such benign providence towards humanity as a whole are “the works of God” and Paul is confident they shall appear neither evil nor unattractive, even to Pagans.

THE HUMAN CONDITION

Speaking of man by nature, Luther comments “finding in ourselves nothing but sin, foolishness, death, and hell, according to that verse of the Apostle in 2 Cor. 6:9-10, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as dying, and behold we live.” Firstly, how in any meaningful way does that passage from Corinthians support his statement? Paul is writing about his experience as an apostle, not the human condition. Secondly, if all one does find within oneself is sin and foolishness, then one is likely to be satanic – a child of hell. What of the workings of conscience? What of sound reason and compassion for others? These natural precepts are not restricted to the spiritually regenerate but have been provided to all true humanity.  Paul affirms as much when speaking of man by nature he writes:  “I joyfully agree with the law of God in the inner person but I see a different law in the parts of my body waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my body’s parts. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom7:22-24) That assuredly is not the Christian as some try to assert. The Christian is no longer “a prisoner to the law of sin which is in the body” or, “fleshly, sold into bondage to sin, unable to practice what I wish to do, but the very thing I hate” (vv14-15). But neither is it the man who in Luther’s words “finds in himself nothing but sin, foolishness, death, and hell”. That is indeed true for some – the children of the devil. It is not man by nature, who inwardly admires what is good and virtuous but fails consistently to practice it because of the body/brain’s sinful tendencies. This is what Paul meant by “the body of THIS death [τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου] , being the inner conflict between the inner man (“spirit”/”heart” – the God-given intellectual spiritual entity which leaves the body after death) versus the instincts of the humanly procreated intellectual vessel (flesh/body/brain).

As for Luther’s assertion that the truly godly “do those things which appear foolish and disgusting to others”, Jesus teaches contrariwise: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Mt5:16). Note, Jesus says “your Father”, not “their Father” – He is speaking of those who cannot currently call God their Father – they have yet to be adopted into God’s family. Yet, providing they are not Satan’s seed (1Jn3:12), they are perfectly capable of discerning and praising goodness when they come across it. And they shall do so again when He who is the Source and Summation of everything that is holy and thoroughly attractive is revealed to all. “God’s works always appear unattractive and evil”? – to some, may be, but not to those who are of God (1Jn3:10).

Note 1 – Alternatively: https://catchpenny.org/heidel.html

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