The ‘Now’ of Eschatological Joy (Take 1)

Martin Luther explained the symbolism of his seal in a letter to Lazarus Spengler (July 8, 1530):

Honorable, kind, dear Sir and Friend!

Since you ask whether my seal has come out correctly, I shall answer most amiably and tell you of those thoughts which now come to my mind about my seal as a symbol of my theology.

There is first to be a cross, black and placed in a heart, which should be of its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. For if one believes from the heart he will be justified. Even though it is a black cross, which mortifies and which also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its natural color and does not ruin nature; that is, the cross does not kill but keeps man alive. For the just man lives by faith, but by faith in the Crucified One.

Such a heart is to be in the midst of a white rose, to symbolize that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace; in a word it places the believer into a white joyful rose; for this faith does not give peace and joy as the world gives and, therefore, the rose is to be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and of all the angels.

Such a rose is to be in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in the Spirit and in faith is a beginning of the future heavenly joy; it is already a part of faith, and is grasped through hope, even though not yet manifest. And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that in heaven such blessedness lasts forever and has no end, and in addition is precious beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal.

May Christ, our dear Lord, be with your spirit until the life to come.

Amen.

Source: Luther’s Works, vol. 49: Letters II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Fortress, 1999), 358–359.

5 thoughts on “The ‘Now’ of Eschatological Joy (Take 1)

  1. I love how Luther so carefully distinguishes between partial and intermittent joy now experienced, and naked faith grasping our heavenly joy amidst present darkness, trouble, and gloom, so that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him AND when with naked faith, not feeling joy at all, not experiencing satisfaction at all, indeed at times most gloomy, we cling, nakedly, to the promise of our Lord in glory.

    Gosh, that makes for a pretty little maxim. I should coin it in its double-sided fullness!

    Far far away,
    T-Bomb

  2. “Satisfaction” implies a particular psychological experience. Ask anybody what first comes to mind with that term. It’s an emotional experience. That joyous feeling after a delicious thanksgiving dinner. The present maxim, as it stands, is one sided. At best, it requires a list of qualifications, which undermines its usefulness as a statement.

    Is God just as glorified when we are not “most satisfied in Him”, when we find ourselves eviscerated by life’s cruelty and absurdity, when we cling by faith, to the One we feel, truly feel, has abandoned us?

    Yes, of course He is. In fact, the crux of the matter faith. The statement/maxim needs to be reformulated to put the stress on our faith, which is independent of our feelings of satisfaction and desire. Clearly it is now our faith that pleases God, that honours God, not our “satisfaction” in Him, not even our perceived desire for Him, as good as that is.

    Faith looks to a satisfaction, and may often experience none. Luther was so eviscerated by the death of his daughter that he ventured to say that not even the death of Christ could help. Indeed, faith, by nature, attests to our present dissatisfaction. At various times, in the same faith, we experience that satisfaction by tasting the powers of the world to come. But then the very next moment we may feel alone in the Universe.

    When I find that I don’t desire God, it is my faith that pleases God: not the quantity or quality of my desire. Ergo, the need to change the statement.

    Desiring God is good. Believing God is better.

    That is why I would never call myself a Christian Hedonist.

    TB

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