Did God Really Say?

By Joel A. Hess

In his argument with Erasmus about free will, Luther makes a profound case for the clarity of Holy Scripture and knowing the mind of God. One of Erasmus’ methods of dismantling Luther’s assertions was to point to the mystery and unknownness of God. He called to his side verses such as Isaiah 40, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” and Paul’s similar statement that “his judgments are incomprehensible.” (Romans 11:33). At first these words seem to make the case that we should always be wary of ever talking about God as if He is comprehensible. Many quickly shut down any conversation about the interpretation of Scripture by pointing to these verses. How often do aspiring theologians on the airplane conclude their opinions by waxing eloquent about God’s incomprehensibility, pretending to preserve God’s godhood?

In his masterpiece Bondage of the Will, Luther makes clear, “Isaiah 40 does not say: ‘who has known the mind of Scripture?’ but: ‘who has known the mind of the Lord?’” Luther goes on to assert that the Scriptures are very clear, and we can know them. In fact, the point of the Church’s ministry is to specifically make known God’s mind to the world. 1 Corinthians 2:12: “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

According to Paul, God has not only revealed His specific thoughts on particular matters, but we may confidently confess that we understand Him! Yes, that’s right. We can understand God! Of course, we have no business commenting on things regarding God that He does not specifically talk about, but those things mentioned in Scripture we can claim not only knowledge but understanding! It is the devil who loves to cause doubts about this, as he successfully did with Eve in the Garden.

Of course, the devil doesn’t come right out and say that God is a liar. Instead, he shoots for some ambiguity in God’s Word. Did God really say? That ‘really’ opens interpretations wide open so you can drive a semi-truck of your own opinions through. We are tempted to believe that God’s Word is ambiguous and His mind unknowable so we can go about our day without any interference from Him. We can then follow our hearts. And be honest, we all would love it if God was ambiguous and we could get away with our desires.

Unfortunately, God speaks extraordinarily clearly in Holy Scriptures. His thoughts on what is right and wrong are clear, and quite frankly, they make sense. If God’s Word were only condemnation, I would be the first one arguing that no one can really understand God.

But He isn’t just clear about what’s wrong with the world and us. He is also beautifully clear about His grace and mercy. With specific words Jesus declares sinners forgiven and instructs His Church to do the same. With specific words Paul time and time again tells those who are guilty under God’s Law that there is a righteousness apart from the Law for those who believe in Christ. God’s clarity about His gift of free salvation to sinners doesn’t stop with words but with the public display of His Son hanging on the cross and a particular time and place. His clear and precise words of hope and resurrection are backed up by an empty grave.

Perhaps there are many things in this world that do not make sense. Surely we do not know the mind of God regarding every action and inaction in the universe. But we do know we are forgiven as we receive the body and blood of our Lord with the words, “Take and eat this is my body; take and drink this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins.” You cannot believe these words, but you definitely cannot misunderstand them.

One thought on “Did God Really Say?

  1. “Bondage of the Will” is such an important document. If we read only one of Luther’s many papers, this would be the most compelling indeed. Excellent article, Joel.

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