Emmitsburg Council of Churches


Experiencing Renewal through Christ's Passion
Reflections from Martin Luther's Theology
of God's Hidden Nature.

Rev. Jon Greenstone

In his teaching about the alien nature of God, Luther reveals facets of a mystical process by which God annihilates the human will and then provides the refurbishing of our inner nature. The refurbishing of our inner self can be viewed as a re-identification of the self with the indwelling Spirit of Christ. Undertaking a study of the Passion of our Lord can allow for an entrance into spiritual renewal. The "Christ nature" can be reawakened in us by entering into the passion of Jesus. The goal is to find ourselves in Jesus, but first we must lose our self.

Luther describes this as a process: "We must give ourselves wholly to this matter, for the main benefit of Christ's Passion is that man sees into his own true self and that he be terrified and crushed by this. Unless we seek that knowledge, we do not derive much benefit from Christ's Passion." Here is one of the keys to discovering the hidden nature of God in Christ's Passion. We must seek God in places and actions that we, in our fickle humanity too easily reject! God is not where we would place God (or ourselves). God is not sitting on a throne, God is not at the head of any great government or political body, neither is God to be found in military strength or a stronghold of power. God is not in the whirlwind, not in the fire, but God is in a man despised and rejected by those he came to serve and to save.

Here is the hidden opening that Luther is revealing. God's fullness only comes to dwell in us as we dispose of our progressive ideas about who God might be. "This does not call for profound words but for profound reflection and a great awe of sins." Luther commends the exercise of meditating on Christ's compassion to his adherents as the best possible medicine for the soul. "This meditation changes man's being and, almost like baptism, gives him a new birth. Here the Passion of Christ performs its natural and noble work, strangling the old Adam and banishing all joy, delight, and confidence which man could derive from other creatures, even as Christ was forsaken by all, even God."

Here Luther names the habit that we must undertake if we are to apprehend and comprehend the hidden God. It is a process of disavowing ourselves, a spiritual exercise that we may undertake and delve into the darkness of God's alien self -- when God had to abandon Christ to death, but emerging from this despair -- we arise as new beings in Christ Jesus. It is a purifying of our souls and a way by which we may come forth as "Lazarus" from the tombs of our own making. Entering into the darkness of death and Hell we are made ready for resurrection.

In sharing additional insights into the meditation on Christ's passion Luther prescribes the manner by which we must surrender ourselves by willingly falling into despair's cold embrace. It is not into the strong and warm embrace of our Lord, but it is into the weakened arms of Christ crucified that we rest the weight of our worldly being. We must enter into the meaning held for us by the suffering servant as we add the weight of our sins to Christ's burden as he suffers on the cross.

Luther quotes St. Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote, "I regarded myself secure; I was not aware of the eternal sentence that had been passed on me in heaven until I saw that God's only Son had compassion upon me and offered to bear this sentence for me. Alas, if the situation is that serious, I should not make light of it or feel secure." To rest ourselves on the crucified Christ is an entrance into God's mercy that is seldom experienced in the lightness of contemporary Christianity. We will hesitate, we do not wish to burden God any more. But in not allowing ourselves to cling to Christ we are casting ourselves away from God's love. Alas, we must add ourselves to the numbers of those who shouted, "Crucify, Crucify." For only by submitting ourselves to the judgement can we open ourselves to the mercy of God that is made available to all who place their hope in Christ.

So take some time during this Good Friday to meditate on Christ's Passion. Allow yourself to consider the imagery of him who suffered and died for us, for he was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, "and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6b).

Peace to you and yours,

Pastor Jon

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