Pondering Martin Luther

I haven’t given too much thought to Martin Luther since learning about the Protestant reformation in high school, about 25 years ago.  As I read his commentary on Noah and the Flood, I was mostly just dazzled by his thoughtful and spiritually edifying reading of the story.  There were times I was amused, especially when he criticized the wordiness and repetition and internal conflict of the story, which he attributed to the troubled state of Moses telling such a horrifying tale.  (The same frustrations drove me to separate the tale into two separate versions of the same story in an Excel spreadsheet!)  Part of his writing seems outdated in light of our more scientific understanding of the world today.  And part of his writing was downright troubling:  it is peppered with digs at Catholic and Jewish writers, which is tiresome at best, and deeply disturbing at worst in light of how history unfolded in his country during World War II.

I was pondering what to make of the man Martin Luther?  On the one hand, Luther’s legacy inspired the great Protestant saint, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who opposed Nazi dictatorship and gave us the Christian classics Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship.  On the other hand, some of Luther’s writings were used as propaganda for the Nazis. Martin Luther’s love for God and the Bible, led to many positive reforms in the Roman Catholic church and also to the whole Christian protestant movement, which helped shape my own experience of what it means to be saved by grace through faith.  Honestly, Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is one of my favorite hymns.  And yet a Bible verse that popped in my mind as I continued reading his commentary on the Flood:  “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)  As someone raised in the Presbyterian church under the influence of John Calvin, I was simply led to pray:

O God, human nature is corrupt, from the least to the greatest among us.  If we are capable of anything good, it is only by your Spirit and to your glory.  The evil we do is an ongoing sign of our fallen nature.  When evil is done by us, your heart grieves.  Thank you for your son Jesus, who took our sin upon the cross.  By your Holy Spirit, teach us to be instruments of your love.

It seems everything about Martin Luther was writ large.  The cautionary tale of Martin Luther is that when we spread our love for God and our passion for the Bible, it’s important to do so with charity for all, even for those who disagree with us.  What seems acceptable to criticize today may look different with the passage of time.  After reflecting on Martin Luther’s life and legacy, my response is simply to make this resolve:  In my own humble attempts at sharing my thoughts, I will do my best not to spread disdain for any person or group of people.  I hope to only share God’s love, which I know deep inside is for everyone.  (I added a tip-in to an already busy page.)

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