Is Martin Luther’s Exlex God Steve Paulson’s “Outlaw God”?

18 Dec

Is God like an Outlaw? Or more like the Good Sheriff?


Following up a bit on my recent series  “Meditations for Radical Lutherans on Luther’s Antinomian Disputations….”

In Francis Pieper’s classic Christian Dogmatics, vol. 1, we read:

“Man is just when his actions conform to the Law of his divine Superior. But since God has no superior and therefore no fixed norm, can we really predicate the righteousness of Him? This apparent difficulty is resolved in the Scriptural axiom coined by the Scholastics and used by Luther: Deus est exlex. God is outside the Law. ‘He is just, because He wills and does everything in conformity with His own Law.’ Luther: ‘God issues His Law to others, but He does not apply it as a norm to Himself’ ” (457).

Is Steven Paulson right then? Is His “Outlaw God” the same as Luther’s exlex God?

Let’s take a look at what Luther said in a sermon on Exodus 9, preached on Dec. 26th of 1524 (St. Louis ed., vol. 3:811-815 (= WA 16:140-145)) Interestingly, this lesser known passage, not available in Luther’s Works (including the new volumes, I think), is from the time between the publication of Erasmus’s Freedom of the Will (Sept. 1524) and the publication of Luther’s response in Dec. 1525:

A measure has been established for man that I should do this and that: my life is finite; it can be comprehended and has a rule, measure, manner, and law, Wis. 11. If you wanted to act with God in the same way, you have missed God. For what is taken up concerning God according to law, measure, and goal is off the mark. Reason cannot reach anything beyond thinking: God should act this way and not differently; and soon it arrives at the judgment and says that it is not good to harden. In this way, it establishes a measure for God, thinking that God is like a man in order to judge God like a man. … But God gives laws to you, but does not accept any from you: he establishes a goal for you, but you do not establish one for him. This is why it is not right that you want it to be so … but know that he wants it to be so and commands it to be accordingly: his will is placed above all laws. When he says: I want to have it this way, then it is above all laws; for he is an infinite God and has the power and freedom to do so. But if one says: Well, I do not understand how it is good that he hardens. Indeed, friend, in your eyes it is evil–do you think you are God? God has no measure, law, or goal (as has been said); this is why he cannot act against it; he cannot sin against the law because no law has been placed before him. This is why everything he does is good, Gen. 1:31.
But another question arises from here: Whether God drives man to sin? This question brings it about that I comprehend God into a ring and circle or into a glass where I want to keep him. He has prescribed to me how I should live and how I should serve him–this is why I think he should live like this as well. He gives the law, but he does not accept the law. No one but God alone may give law and teaching how one should live and be good. But I am not to ordain a law for God as to how he should rule the world or man. No matter what you think, what God does is right; for his will is not unjust or evil; he does not have his measure or law as to why he enlightens this one or hardens the other one. If I measured or judged God in this matters according to my reason, he is unjust and has more sins than the devil; in fact, he is more terrifying and horrible than the devil. For he acts and deals with us violently, plagues and tortures us, and has no regard for us.
This might cause one to become foolish if he does not take his reason captive and does not allow all such thoughts to be driven out of his head. And this foolishness is caused only by the fact that no one should measure God or prescribe him a law; for God is exlex, as one says. But reason cannot be talked into this, much less can it be persuaded here; one cannot remove from its eyes the cursed, damned brooding and searching in such lofty incomprehensible matters, as reason always says: why? For the law is there: If God does this or that according to the law, then it would be done rightly. But this measuring causes you to lose body, life, and our Lord God when it is said: measure away in the devil’s name! But every heart that can say: Dear God, do as it pleases you; I am content–that heart cannot perish, but all the others must go down. …
Man is called good because he acts and lives according to the law. Turn this around for God; in his case, a work is called good because God does it. My work is not good because I do it, but because it is done according to the law of God in which it is prescribed to me what I should do. I must step out of my mind into a higher mind, namely, the law of God. God is not good because he does a particular work, but the work is right, good, holy, and well done because he himself does it, so that the goodness comes from God, not from the work. God is the doer and does not take the goodness from the work or law. But our goodness does not come from doing good things and respected for it among the people, but, so that the law is given its due, it must be fulfilled through the Holy Spirit; then we too get the name that we are good. …
Reason cannot properly interpret this Pharaoh, that God drives him to do evil and hardens him, or entices him to good or evil. God does well and does not act unjustly. But he who is driven in this way does act unjustly: For he has God’s commandment before him that he should not act in this way, and the devil nonetheless drives him to act and do in this way way and not to live as God wants to have it. God wants you to have his law before you; but the devil entices you to act against the law. Would you then say: Is God’s will against itself? That is too high. God’s will is there, but I am not to know how this happens. I am to look down, to what God wants to have. Now he has revealed his will by law and gospel and taught what I am to do. I am to deal with this and not climb up and ask why God does this or that. Leave this undone. But once you have come to faith and true understanding and have experienced the cross, then you will understand it.
Reason always begins to build the house on top at the roof and not at the bottom. One finds many who have never heard a sermon on Christ; they are crude and wild people, torture themselves and curse as if they were full of devils–and their first question is why God does this or that thing. They come to the light with their dirty feet and blind reason and measure God according to reason. … 
One should preach about the divinity only once a year so that people would know that, when it comes to salvation, one has to start below, that is, how Christ came to us, so as to preach how this child, Christ, eats milk and butter, lies on his mothers breasts, and is to be found in Bethlehem–and learn there why Christ came, what he gives, Is. 7:15; 1 Peter 2:2. When I say to God: why do you do this? He answers: I know well what is behind it. If we could only leave out the “why,” the devil would not make inroads with questions such as: are we predestined to salvation or not? How can Christ be God and man? 
Should one not rather preach about faith and love? Indeed, people say, I’ve known all that well. But, friend, do not embark on such questions; deal with the humanity of Christ; there you are certain that God sent his Son into the flesh; leave him in the flesh; seek him here; he has come down into the Virgin Mary’s womb and put his humanity before our eyes. There he wants you to know, contemplate, and practice yourself in the same. He is the way, the truth, and the life, John 14:6. Nonetheless, we want to climb higher and know how he predestined this or that, how he hardened this one and not the other. He who is intelligent and wise, let him remain on this marked-out path. …”
There goes Luther, with that 3rd use of the Law stuff again. And talking about goals too! Good grief!*
Will someone teach him how to be a real outlaw already?
In other matters though…  Merry Christmas everyone!
I think you might like — even if you are a Radical Lutheran! —  this sermon my pastor did a few years ago where we hear that “God is found in the little baby Jesus, so that He does not frighten us away with His appearance among us”.


*Freshly translated by Holger Sonntag.

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Posted by on December 18, 2018 in Uncategorized


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