Week 3 of Theology of the Cross Thursdays. Today we’re hitting up thesis 3, the first of two theses about appearances.
Thesis 3 - Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
Appearances matter. There’s no question about it. Appearances, those surface level signifiers, help us in our day to day lives. We can use appearances to help us begin to make certain quick judgment calls about everything from choosing a mate (helloooo online dating) to throwing away the milk in the refrigerator. But the thing to remember about appearances is that they are estimations - and estimations aren’t always correct.
In thesis 3 and the upcoming thesis 4, Luther shows us that the estimations gathered from our surface level understanding of the human heart and God’s holy will are often off. In fact, our estimations are going to be way off. What we might assume is an “attractive and good” work may actually be a horridly awful sin that will kill us.
So going to church, helping out at the local food pantry or homeless shelter, or getting married to your high school sweetheart - all of these things might actually be dangerous. I think the difficulty in this is to show how these things might be dangerous, because after all they LOOK like they’re good and attractive.
There are probably a couple of general ways in which human works can be understood as being mortal sins even though they appear to be good and attractive:
1. They are committed by sinners - As tough as it might be to swallow, the simple fact that a sinner is doing the work, makes it a sinful work. It’s like you have the reverse Midas-touch or soot all over your hands. Even if it’s a good thing, if you’re touching it, it’s going to be tainted.
2. They are committed with wrongful intent - Now it is certainly not the case that every sinner does good works without at least meaning to do something good. However, sometimes we do actually do “good” things for bad reasons. Like, are you going to church because you know it will get you that job promotion you want, or are you helping out at the food pantry because you know that it’ll get that cute girl to sleep with you? If you are, then it’s easy to see that the thing that you’re doing shouldn’t actually qualify as “good” because it has evil intent.
3. They are committed outside the will of God - This one is difficult, but is best expressed in the story of Uzzah (cool name, huh?) in 2 Samuel 6. Uzzah is part of a procession that is bringing the ark of the covenant back to Israel after having been stolen. Basically, someone trips and the ark of the covenant is going down in classic slo-mo football-fumble style. Uzzah reaches his hand out to keep the ark from falling to the ground, which most of us would say is a stand up move, most of us. However, God isn’t very pleased, in fact, His anger burns against Uzzah and God strikes Uzzah dead. How come? Because Uzzah was acting outside of the will of God, which is basically the definition of sin.
So now you’re probably terrified to do anything at all. That’s where most Lutherans live. I think we get this theological concept pretty well actually, if not too well. We begin to think, “Holy moley, I can do nothing right, so the right thing must be to do nothing at all.” Of course, Thesis 3 applies to doing “nothing” as much as it applies to doing something. So you’re a dead Uzzah either way.
That is actually the brilliance of this Thesis in showing us who Jesus Christ is. We’re dead Uzzahs because 1. we’re sinners, 2. we sometimes come with the wrong intent, and 3. we would exist outside of the will of God if it weren’t for the Holy Spirit. Jesus, however, 1. was not a sinner, 2. since He wasn’t a sinner, didn’t come with the wrong intent, 3. was familiar with and was a part of God’s plan and will. Jesus = not an Uzzah.
But Jesus still dies? Hmnn…that’s a topic for the next thesis. See you next week.
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Posted on Thursday, April 10th 2014