God’s Speaking About Himself (Luther)

 John Calvin famously said that God “lisps” when he speaks to us (Institutes, I.xii.1).  That is, our infinite God accommodates himself to us in a way that we finite humans can understand.  For example, although God is invisible and does not have a body, in his Word he often mentions his eyes, hands, and ears.  Martin Luther also discussed accommodation in his comments on Genesis 6:6, where the text talks about God “regretting” or “repenting” (נָחַם) that he made man.  Here are a few quotes from Luther’s comments:

 …God himself condescends to the low plane of our understanding and presents himself to us with childlike simplicity in representations, as in a guise, so that he may be made known to us in some way. Thus the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove; not because he is a dove, but in this crude form he desired to be recognized, received and worshiped, for it was really the Holy Spirit. No one, to be sure, will say that the same passage defines God as a voice speaking from heaven, yet under this crude image, a human voice from heaven, he was received and worshiped.

…This is the simplest way of treating such passages, for the nature of God we cannot define; what he is not we can well define—he is not a voice, a dove, water, bread, wine. And yet in these visible forms he presents himself to us and deals with us. These forms he shows to us that we should not become wandering and unsettled spirits which dispute concerning God, but are completely ignorant concerning him, since in his unveiled majesty he can not be apprehended. He sees it to be impossible for us to know him in his own nature. For he lives, as the Scripture says in 1 Timothy 6:16, in an inaccessible light, and what we can apprehend and understand he has declared. They who abide in these things will truly lay hold of him, while those who vaunt and follow visions, revelations and illuminations will either be overwhelmed by his majesty or remain in densest ignorance of God.

Luther, Martin. Luther on Sin and the Flood: Commentary on Genesis. Edited by John Nicholas Lenker. Translated by John Nicholas Lenker. Vol. II. The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther. Minneapolis, MN: The Luther Press, 1910, paragraphs 161-163.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002