Luther, Suffering, and Cross

Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Theology)




Recently, I was involved in consoling close friends as they faced the terrible suffering and death of their son.  After Scripture, the first book I picked up was Forde’s On Being a Theologian of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).  In this book, the great Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde discusses the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, which found Luther explaining and defending his “new” theology in (you guessed it) Heidelberg, Germany.  Luther wrote a set of theses for this disputation, which contain utterly profound truths that capture the heartbeat of Luther and in turn, the Reformation.

Theses 20 and 21b contain perhaps the weightiest truths of all of Luther’s writings: “That person deserves to be called a theologian [read: true Christian]…who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God through suffering and the cross.  A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is” (pp. 77, 81).

Forde comments well: “God refuses to be seen in any other way, both for our protection and to put down the theologian of glory in us…The cross therefore is actually intended to destroy the sight of the theologian of glory.  In the cross God actively hides himself.  God simply refuses to be known in any other ways” (p. 79).

 One more that is amazing: “We suffer because we don’t like it.  We don’t like to be put out of control.  It means that we are rendered totally passive by the divine operation through the cross and resurrection of Jesus” (emphasis his) (p. 87).

To quote a friend on this topic, “It is beautiful.  Luther was a brilliant rhetorician and preacher of Christ.”  I agree.


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3 thoughts on “Luther, Suffering, and Cross”

  1. I’ve been struck by Paul’s theology of suffering. On the one hand, he speaks of the subjective benefit of suffering, namely that if we share in Christ’s sufferings, then we also share in his comfort (2 Cor 1:5). On the other hand, Paul also offers a much more objective “ordo” of suffering:

    suffering – death – resurrection – glorification

    Sharing in Christ’s suffering means that we share in his death (Phil 3:10). Paul also says that when we are united to Christ in his death, we are also united to him in his resurrection (Rom 6:5). Finally, to round out the ordo, Paul says that when we suffer with Christ, we are heirs with him in that we also share in his glorification (Rom 8:17).

    Therefore while suffering is still a terrible thing to endure – something we can’t minimize or trivialize – Paul comforts us by showing that in the darkest times of our lives, God is conforming us into the image of his son with the final goal that we will one day be glorified with him.

    “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me. . .” (Ps 23:4).


  2. I read that book last month and really appreciated it. I have a review of it in our church bulletin for this Sunday. One of the things that struck me out of the book was that humbling is a passive thing. God has to humble us. Dare we pray that he will?


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