Luther's expressions of "the time" and "the hour" are part of his general view of God's sovereignty and of man as "fellow-worker" with God. In brief, they mean that man cannot determine the moment for an action, since everything happens according to God's will (this is one side, an expression of man's bondage before God). In the hour God wills the action to be effected, man receives from God a creative freedom to carry the action through against all opposition (this is the other side, an expression of his freedom in outward matters, the down-reaching, form-giving freedom as God's coworker on earth). Man is free in his outward action when he is bound in God, as a veil for God's creative action, which, when the hour has come, breaks forth in an unpredictable way. What Luther says about "the time" is related to his concept of freedom and bondage, and sheds further light on his view of creation. This may clarify the role played by him who is faithful to his vocation as the point where God's action breaks through.
A prime reference, in this connection, is Luther's 1532 treatment of Ecclesiastes, specifically his interpretation of 3:1-17 and 9:11. From the very beginning, as he exposits 3:1 ("For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven"), Luther declares that this affirmation is in direct contradiction to the free will. All human labors and efforts have their fixed time to be started, to be effected, and to be concluded. That time cannot be known in advance by man. The moment of all happenings is in God's power. Therefore all anticipatory anxieties and all precise planning for the future are fruitless and meaningless. Man cannot escape that which is to be. But there is no power on earth which can prevent us in the hour when we carry out a work which God wants done, i.e. in the hour when we do that hour's work. "Here, as has been said before, Solomon is speaking about the works of men, i.e. works started by human counsels...Therefore know this: All human works and endeavors have certain and definite time for their doing, their beginning and ending; and this lies beyond the power of man, as has been said against freedom of will -- that it is not for us to prescribe time, manner, and operation of things to be done. Here our desires and efforts are plainly frustrated, since God has determine all things that are to go or come [referring to Ecclesiastes 3:2-8]. That he clearly shows by examples of men's works the times of which are beyond human choice, so that he concludes: It is vain for men to be tortured by their desires, and not to accomplish anything -- even they are broken thereby -- unless that time and hour are fixed by God has come...Thus the power of God embraces all definite times, so that they can be impeded by nothing."91
When a man makes up his mind to do as simple a thing as seeking amusement, he finds that joy is not won this way. Joy has its hour, which is not at man's command: habet ergo laeticia suam horam. From that we might learn that we cannot control matters by our own decisions. Man is not to rack his brain about the future, but live in the hour that has come.92 That is the same as living in faith, receptive to God, who is present now and has something he will do now.
91 WA 20, 58.
92 WA 20, 61 (Annotationes in Ecclesiasten, 1532). Concerning the time of misfortune see WA 51, 212f (Exposition of Psalm 101, 1534-35); cf. WA 15, 300 (On Trading and Usury, 1524), where the fact is stressed that man must live in constant uncertainty about the future, praying for his daily bread, but not reaching beyond that.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation, pp. 213-214: