Creating Reality with Words
Below you will find two excellent quotes from Martin Luther. Read them, then read them again. I cannot take credit for finding them, one of my favorite authors did that for me. Carl Trueman, in his fun and challenging book Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear To Tread (worth the price of the book just for that title) writes a very helpful essay entitled, “Am I Bovvered?” about words and how we like to attach our sense of reality to what another person said, usually complaining that they hurt us.
In all of this he makes the key distinction between our words and God’s and he does it through these two quotes. The first is that when God speaks He generates reality. The second quote is about the Cross, where we must accept God’s words as the reality of what the Cross is, not what man says it means. Good stuff.
Here attention must also be called to this, but the words “let there be light” are the words of God, not of Moses; this means that they are realities. For God calls into existence the things that do not exist (Romans 4:17). He does not speak grammatical words; he speaks true and existent realities. Accordingly, that which among us has the sound of the word is a reality with God. Thus Sun, Moon, heaven, earth, Peter, Paul, I, you, etc. – we are all words of God, in fact only one single syllable or letter by comparison with the entire creation. We, too, speak, but only according to the rules of language; that is, we assign names to objects which have already been created. But the divine role of language is different, namely: when he says: “Sun, shine,” the Sun is there at once and shines. Thus the words of God are realities, not bare words.
(Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. I, Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 21-22.
The theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the Cross calls the thing what it actually is.
This is clear: he who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glow to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” [Philippians 3:18], for they hate the cross in suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are destroyed and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated in destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.
(Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 31, Career of the Reformer I (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 53.