Preliminary notes on faith, hope and trust in the ER: Insights from a Lutheran college textbook and a Swedish-English dictionary

DRAFT NOTES for a journal I hope to write when things settle down a little and I get time. My wife was taken to the ER at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield Wednesday night, and I found some thoughts in a book I took with me — more or less by accident — that crystalized some of the ideas I’ve been wrestling with, especially about intercessory prayer and whether a personal God exists to whom such prayers can be addressed. It took me in an unexpected direction, and I’ve posted the notes to this blog so I can send my spiritual director a link. Debi was pretty ill, and it’s been quite a rodeo, so I didn’t have time to write. But I’ll have a lot to talk about Monday at our next spiritual direction meeting.

D R A F T OF THE LEDE, OR INTRO, TO THE JOURNAL I HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO WRITING YET. THE EPIGRAPH COMES FROM A SWEDISH-ENGLISH DICTIONARY, WITH A DEFINITION OF BELIEF, FAITH AND TRUST — THE SAME WORD [“TRO”] IN SWEDISH — AND A QUOTATION FROM THE PASSAGE IN ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS ABOUT “FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY”:

Tro 1. belief; faith; trust; tro, hopp och kärlek = faith, hope and love [charity]; den kristna tro = the Christian faith …” Engelsk-Svensk — Svensk-Engelsk Ordbok (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1997), p. 405.

Believe me, none of this was planned. When the ambulance came for Debi, I figured we’d have a good long wait in the Emergency Room. So I grabbed the nearest book in order to have something, anything, to read. It turned out to be Bradley Houston’s A Graceful Life: Lutheran Spirituality for Today (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2000). Houston is a religion professor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and it reads like an undergraduate text or collateral reading book.

It turned out to be an inspired choice.

… AND THAT’S AS FAR AS I GOT WHEN I STARTED THIS DRAFT SOMETIME FRIDAY. VERBATIM EXCERPTS FOLLOW FROM BRADLEY HOUSTON’S BOOK [THE TYPOS ARE MINE, FROM TRANSCRIBING IT LATE SATURDAY WHEN I GOT HOME FROM THE HOSPITAL]:

Faith is trust in the present Christ, loving him, seeking from him all that is best. This notion of Christ present is often hard to grasp. A great many Christians think of Jesus mainly as someone who long ago set and example and paid a price for their sins. In such an understanding, Christ accomplished mighty things in the past and now dwells in heaven. Such a Christ Feels rather distant. But for Luther, Jesus Christ is alive and very much present in and with the believer. Luther had a powerful sense of living day by day in the intimate companionship of Christ. (49)

* * *

Why does God not quickly deliver us from suffering? The fact that God did not spare Jesus from the cross tells us something very significant about the way God works. It is not God’s highest goal to each of us live a long, carefree life. God is more concerned in fashioning people who have deep faith in God and love for one another. These are the primary characteristics of Jesus, and it is God/s goal to conform us to Christ. According to Christian beliefs, this goal is ultimately what is best for us. … 53

Luther says that if we look carefully at the cross of Jesus, then we discover a different God, one who is most deeply revealed in weakness, suffering, and death. … In the end, to be sure, God does overcome evil in the resurrection of Jesus. But the path to the glory of resurrection is through suffering. Since God dealt that way with Jesus, we should not expect anything different. God will not shield us from all sorrow and pain; at some points in our lives, we will have to endure them. … God may not bring us deliverance from trouble, but will share the trouble with us. … (69-70)

In summary, we can say that the central reality of relying upon the word of God is the personal relationship of trusting in Jesus Christ. Both law and gospel point to this center and especially to the cross of Jesus that helps us trust in God even in the midst of suffering. (70)

[AS I HAVE DONE HISTORICAL RESEARCH ON THE OLD SWEDISH-AMERICAN AUGUSTANA LUTHERAN SYNOD, I HAVE BEEN STRUCK BY THE WAY SWEDES (AND GERMANS) USE THE SAME WORD FOR FAITH, BELIEF AND TRUST. HENCE THE EPIGRAPH WITH THE QUOTATION FROM A SWEDISH-ENGLISH DICTIONARY (ORDBOK) ABOVE. HOUSTON GAVE ME A WAY TO MAKE THAT CONNECTION IN MY OWN THEOLOGIZING. ESPECIALLY IN LIGHT OF WHAT HE SAYS ABOUT SUFFERING.

[WHAT WAS ENTIRELY UNEXPECTED: HOUSTON MAKES THE CONNECTION BETWEEN FAITH AND TRUST IN THE CONTEXT OF LUTHER’S “THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS,” A CONCEPT I HAVE MORE-OR-LESS IGNORED UP TILL NOW BECAUSE THE EXPLANATIONS I’VE SEEN OF IT GET VERY DEEP INTO 16TH-CENTURY ISSUE(S) OF JUSTIFICATION. WIKIPEDIA EXPLAINS THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM IN THE EXCERPT BELOW.]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theology_of_the_Cross

The theology of the Cross (Latin: Theologia Crucis,[1] German: Kreuzestheologie[2][3][4]) or staurology[5] (from Greek stauros: cross, and -logy: “the study of”)[6] is a term coined by the theologian Martin Luther[1] to refer to theology that posits the cross as the only source of knowledge concerning who God is and how God saves. It is contrasted with the Theology of Glory[1] (theologia gloriae),[1] which places greater emphasis on human abilities and human reason.

The term theologia crucis was used very rarely by Luther. He first used the term, and explicitly defined it in contrast to the theology of glory, in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518. During this debate, he represented the Augustinians and presented his theses that later came to define the Reformation movement.

[Wikipedia lists 28 theses, i.e. academic debating points, that were argued at Heidelberg. All, as far as I can tell, deal with Luther’s concept of justification by grace through faith. The Wikipedia page continues:]

According to Luther, the theologian of the cross preaches what seems foolish to the world (1 Cor. 1:18). In particular, the theologian of the cross preaches that (1) humans can in no way earn righteousness, (2) humans cannot add to or increase the righteousness of the cross, and (3) any righteousness given to humanity comes from outside of us (extra nos).

HANSON’S BOOK ON LUTHERAN SPIRITUALITY GOES INTO THE ISSUE OF JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE IN DETAIL — YOU CAN’T WRITE MUCH ABOUT LUTHERANS WITHOUT IT — BUT THE PASSAGES I READ ABOUT LUTHER’S “THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS” IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM AT ST. JOHN’S TOOK WHAT HAD BEEN TO ME AN ABSTRACT 16TH-CENTURY CONCEPT AND APPLIED IT TO REAL LIFE, AT LEAST AS I HAVE LIVED IT. HE TOOK IT DOWN TO WHERE THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD, AND I COULDN’T HAVE READ IT IN A BETTER PLACE AT A BETTER TIME.