Theses 19-20: God and the Unworthy Theologian
This is the next installment in our special series on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. Translation of Theses 19 and 20 by Caleb Keith.
19. That person is not worthy to be called a theologian who thinks the invisible things of God are observable from events which have actually happened (Rom. 1:20; 1 Cor. 1:21-25).
This is clear from those who were theologians and yet were still called fools by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1. Additionally, the invisible things of God are virtue, godliness, wisdom, justice, goodness, and so forth. The knowledge of all these things does not make one worthy or wise.
20. Conversely, a person is worthy of being called a theologian who understands the visible and ordered things of God after fixing his sight on the passion and cross of Christ.
The observable and visible things of God, that is His humanity, weakness, and foolishness, are the opposite of the invisible. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:25 calls them the weakness and foolishness of God. Because by works men abused the knowledge of God, to the contrary, God desired to be known in suffering, and to reject wisdom of invisible things by means of the wisdom of visible things, so that those who did not cling to God as present in his works should cling to Him as He is hidden in His suffering. As the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” Therefore, it is not enough for anyone, and it has no benefit to know God in glory and majesty, unless that person knows Him in the humility and shame of the cross. Thus God destroys the wisdom of the wise, as Isaiah 45:15 states, “Truly, thou art a God who hides Himself.”
So, also, in John 14:8, where Philip spoke about the theology of glory: “Show us the Father.” Christ quickly corrected his wandering thought about seeking God elsewhere and led him back to Himself, saying, “Philip, he who has seen me has seen the Father.” For this reason, true theology and knowledge of God are in Christ crucified, as it is also says in John 10, “No one comes to the Father, except by me.” “I am the door,” and so on and so forth.
I often think about what it must have been like to be Adam and Eve. To be the only people who know what it is like to be sinless and then suddenly not. To walk with God and then believe the lie that walking with Him and being loved and cared for by Him is not enough. More is desired.
The first sin was and is the desire to be more like God than you are. The Devil’s best lie is that you can be like God, that you can know what He alone knows, and that you can see with His eyes. Beware of God-likeness masquerading as Godliness: this is the pursuit that threw all of creation into chaos.
Adam has left an unworthy theologian in all of us: a theologian on a quest to know what God has not given us to know, a theologian of glory. We are all still striving to be God. Still eating the forbidden fruit of wanting to ascend to Him. This unworthy theologian doesn't seek to know God to worship Him, but rather to displace Him. The old Adam in us wants to kill God. We believe God is holding out on us, and that He has kept the best things from us. We associate divine glory with spiritual power. And if glory means power, we will gladly become theologians of the former.
To kill God and take His place we must first understand Him. So, we look to our reason. We obsess over sovereignty, election and why God does what He does and how He does it. Because we are unworthy theologians, we believe we are on some twisted divine Easter egg hunt. We look for knowledge of God in the powerful, beautiful and rational things of the world. But this the opposite of where God has said He is found.
Only a sinner who knows he is a sinner can begin to know God rightly. It's a strange truth that the more one recognizes his sinfulness, the more he understands God. The reason for this is that God has chosen to reveal who He is in the person and work of Christ.
He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. -Col. 1: 15-17
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. - Col. 2:8-9
God, as revealed in Christ, is something the unworthy theologian in us refuses to look at. It doesn’t look powerful, beautiful or rational. It looks like the ultimate display of weakness and powerlessness. We agree with the mocking crowd at the foot of the cross: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35) What kind of all-powerful God dies in public? And not a noble death, a shameful one. An ugly, bloody one. It doesn't make sense, and we don't want it to. That isn't what we had in mind when we took the devil at his word that “we could be like God.”
But this is who God has always been. He is the Lamb who was slain before the world began (Revelation 13:8). God did not take up this identity after the fall of man. This is who He was, is and will forever be. This is the God Adam and Eve unknowingly asked to be. God will not allow another to take up the sins of His creation. He will instead give the Adam in all of us what he desires. He will let us kill Him. He will die at the hands of unworthy theologians for the sins of unworthy theologians. We look everywhere for God and with our eyes fixed on the heavens miss Him crawling through the streets with a cross on His flesh exposed back. The observable God is locked up in what we refuse to observe. Still, everything we can know about God is wrapped up in the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Saint Paul states that God has revealed Himself as “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18) and “offense” (Gal. 5:11) This same Paul says he preached “the whole council of God” (Acts 20:27) and yet says he has “determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) These are not contradictions. They are the same foolish, offensive truth. To see God and the world He has created rightly is to first observe them through the death of the God who has always been the crucified creator of all things. The God whose glory looks like shame and whose power looks like weakness. The God who reduces Himself to a love that we can hardly bear to look at. But dare to look at the forever slain Lamb of God and keep on looking, that you may become a true theologian, a theologian of foolishness and offense.
A worthy theologian is one who has understood his unworthiness. One who has looked into the darkness of the Old Adam within and seen the desire to kill and be God. One who by grace alone has then had his eyes moved to the crucified God-man, Jesus Christ. One who sees the glory of God wrapped up in His radical love for His murderous creation. One who sees the power of God in the bloody sacrifice of Himself. Real sinners become real theologians by grace through faith in a God who passionately descended to man as a real man. The full council of God is only visible in God hanging nude on a tree for a world of unworthy theologians.