Saturday, December 10, 2005

Hard Teachings from Genesis

More passages from Luther's Lectures on Genesis (pp. 41-43):

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5)

But the very words of Moses should be noted carefully. In this passage he has emplyed an unusual expression with a definite design. He does not simply state that the thoughts of the human being are evil, but the very imagination of His thoughts. He applies this term to every capacity of human thought or of human reason and free will, even though it may be of the highest quality. He calls it imagination because man devises it with the utmost efforts, selects, and fashions it as a potter does, and regards it as something very beautiful.

But this, says Moses, is evil, and not just once, but continually and at all times; for without the Holy Spirit reason is entirely devoid of any knowledge of God. Furthermore, to be devoid of any knowledge of God means to be completely ungodly; it means to live in darkness and to regard as best those things that are worst. I am speaking in a theological sense about things that are good, for in this instance a difference must be made between civil affairs and theology. God gives His approval to the government of the ungodly; He honors and rewards excellence even in the ungodly. Yet He does this so far as this present life comes into consideration, not the future life. And reason does have an understanding of what things are good as far as the state is concerned.

But when we discuss free will, we ask what its powers arre from the theological point of view, not in civil affairs or in matters within the realm of reason. We maintain, however, that man without the Holy Spirit is completely ungodly before God, even if he were adorned with all the virtues of the heather. In the historical accounts of the heathen there are certainly outstanding instances of self-control; of generosity; of love toward fatherland, parents, and children; of bravery; and of philanthropy. Yet we maintain that the loftiest thoughts about God, about the worship of God, and about the will of God are a darkness more than Cimmerian. The light of reason, which has been granted to man alone, has insight only into what benefits the body. This is the perverted love of carnal desire.

Therefore this statement is not to be understood in a trivial sense, the way the Jews and the sophists [i.e. scholastic philosophers] understand it; they suppose that it is speaking only of the lower part of man, which is brutish, but that "reason strives toward the highest good" [Editor's note: Luther is citing the scholastic axiom rationem deprecari ad optima]. Accordingly, they confine the "imaginations of his thoughts" to the Second Table, as did the Pharisee who disapproved of the tax-collector and declared that he was not like the others (Luke 18:11). He spoke fine words, for it is not something evil to thank God for His gifts. But we declare that even this very act is something evil and ungodly, because it has its origin in the utmost lack of knowledge about God and is truly a prayer turned into sin; for it serves neither the glory of God nor the welfare of man.

You may likewsie be aware that in some of their writings the philosophers have clever discussions about God and about the providence by which God controls everything. Some people find these statements that they make all but prophets out of Socrates, Xenophon, and Plato. [Editor's note: This may be aimed at Zwingli, whose statements about the possible salvation of Socrates had aroused Luther's ire. My note: Or also at Erasmus, who famously and seriously wrote: "Saint Socrates, pray for us!"] But because such discussions do not realize that God sent His Son Christ for the salvation of sinners, these superb discussions themselves represent the utmost lack of knowledge of God and are nothing but blasphemies, according to the statement in this passage, which declares directly that all the imagination, every endeavor of the human heart, is only evil.

This applies, therefore, not only to sins before the Flood but to man's entire nature -- to his heart, his reason, and his intellect, even when man feigns righteousness and wants to be most holy. This the Anabaptists do today when they get the idea into their heads that they can live without sin, and when they are intent on attaining what appear to be outstanding virtues. The rule is: When hearts are without the Holy Spirit, they do not only have no knowledge of God but even hate Him by nature. How can something that has its origin in a lack of knowledge of God and in a hatred of God be anything else than evil?

This certainly seems relevant to the issue here and to the questions about sanctification here? But is it relevant to the teaching about the "imagination" (there's that word!) here?