My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

17 August 2005

Notes on Luther, 12

Back by no demand whatsoever...

Bondage of the Will, Ch. 5, paragraphs 3-5

3. Hey tough guy, what about Pharaoh, huh, huh? Luther is moving to consider Erasmus’ treatment of specific texts which we might point to for destruction of “free-will”, as Erasmus defines it. One of the first that comes to mind is God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 4:21. Erasmus claims that it is God’s patience with Pharaoh which will make him every more obstinate. Luther begs to differ.

Erasmus cites Origen and Jerome in his defense; this is too bad because, as godly as those men were, they were the harbingers of some horrible Bible-study methods (Luther calls it “absurd and clumsy”, and he’s not wrong). Luther points out how Erasmus’ version of Exodus 4:21 makes Pharaoh the hardener of his own heart, not God, which is the exact opposite of what the Bible says. This would also mean that God’s mercy and patience really equate to punishment, not opportunity to repent (if Erasmus is right about Ex. 4:21, anytime God is patient with you, it’s a sign that He’s out to get you…hmmm).

Luther follows Erasmus’ argument to its end: what if God does harden with His patience? Then it is God’s mercy which removes free-will from men. Then God’s mercy becomes a cruelty instead, a turn of thought the Scriptures know nothing of. Erasmus valiantly tries to redeem this odd version of God through his own logic, but Luther powerfully responds, reason storms and contends, in order to clear God of blame, and to vindicate His justice and goodness! But faith and the Spirit judge otherwise, believing that God is good even though he should destroy all men.

So, in the end, a defense of man’s free-will is a spiritual issue, coming from a heart of pride and faithlessness. While it may indeed be harder to believe what Scripture sets out plainly about God ruling over all the affairs of men, that type of hard faith is exactly the type the Spirit provides. Many things seem, and are, very good to God which seem, and are, very bad to us. Thus, afflictions, sorrows, errors, hell, and all God’s best works are in the world’s eyes very bad, and damnable. What is better than Christ and the gospel? But what is there that the world abominates more?

4. You still need an answer? How does Luther explain God’s action of working evil in men? To quote bad comics everywhere: What’s up with that?

First, Luther notes, God’s Word ought to suffice for us here. But in case reason demands more, here’s a shot: (1) God is omnipotent/sovereign (still with us?). (2) Satan & fallen man cannot will good, but are stuck pursuing their own desires. (3) Satan & fallen man are still under God’s omnipotence. (4) When God works with the ungodly, apart from regenerating them, He works with them as they are; ungodly cannot produce godly, so the result of God working through ungodly men is ungodliness. It is like a man riding a horse with only three, or two, good feet; his riding corresponds with what the horse is, which means that the horse goes badly.

God cannot suspend His sovereignty; He cannot pause being God, so He must rule even in Satan’s heart, even in the hearts of fools. As a result he sins and errs incessantly and inevitably until he is set right by the Spirit of God. There you have it.

5. Hard to handle – Working with evil instruments isn’t the same thing as hardening them, so next to consider is this act of hardening. What goes on when God hardens someone’s heart?

Luther makes sense of it like this: before conversion, our passion is totally directed inward, we are worshipers of the self, seekers of our own desire. When God acts in the world, He often does things that run contrary to this self-love tendency of man. When the most basic, deepest tide of the soul is fought against without the converting power of the Spirit, it is only reasonable to expect a hardening, a further turning from the One who’s trying to get me to deny myself. God doesn’t need to make new evil in man in order to harden them; He only has to interact with them while withholding Spiritual regeneration and *poof*, they’re hardened.

We again must believe Scripture when it tells us God does not tempt anyone with evil or do evil Himself. So we balance that with seeing that God is able to use evil instruments toward His holy purposes. Here, instead of adding more logical puzzles to the mix, let us worship the God who can even use His enemy’s plans for His own glory!


Tamara Rose said...

hey! just wanted to say hey! so hey. hope your having a good day. I really like your blog by the way!

ellyn olivetti said...


This whole section just makes me feel stupid (or you look smart!). Can you back up and explain a little background? Are we talking about Martin Luther? And what book are you reading?


Tamara said...

This is more of a question and not an attempt to debate with you. I am more just interested in your thoughts. In Ephesians 6:4 fathers are told not to provoke their children to anger. Don't you think God could provoke Pharaoh to anger? (I am not assuming Pharaoh is God’s child. I am just pointing out people can provoke people to act a certain way.) In the Bible it clearly states God HIMSELF hardens Pharaoh’s heart. But that doesn’t discount that Pharaoh's "free-will" is still there. God deals with man and man reacts in his own manner. Some to repentance and some to hardness of heart. True God is still a major component to the experience and still the sovereign orchestrate causing the reaction by His character. But Pharaoh is not just a puppet in God's hands, but a true enemy of God. It makes Pharaoh’s anger even more sinful. I think that it is possible that Pharaoh was reacting to God not necessarily controlled by God. That in no way makes God less sovereign. The truth is God knows exactly how His character will affect people. He knew when to heal people so the religous leaders would want to kill Him. (On a Sabbath) He knows how to get a reaction. I guess I have a human perception some of the time. But if God truly controlled Pharaoh and made him reject Moses's requests God would seem divided. I guess I can’t picture God playing a game of chess by Himself. Does this make any sense? Again I ask to learn not to discredit a very sacred theology.

Jared said...

Mom - sorry for the lack of background. I'm picking back up my discussion of Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will. Notes 1-11 are in the archives.

Tamara Rose said...

hehe i was really confused when i fist saw that! i didn't know i posted that long of a comment! lol. well hi other Tamara.