Science and the Hidden versus the Revealed God
In rereading Luther’s Bondage of the Will, the section where Luther criticizes Erasmus for not distinguishing the hidden God from the God-come-to-us through the Word, Jesus Christ, came home to me. The inscrutable will of the hidden God, Luther maintains: “is not meant to be inquired into, but to be reverently adored, as by far the most awesome secret of the Divine Majesty. He has kept it to Himself and forbidden us to know it.” Luther is referring to the Aseity of God, to use a philosophical term.
It seems ridiculous to Erasmus that “the righteous Lord deplores the death of His people, which He Himself works in them.” Luther answers:
We must discuss God, or the will of God, preached, revealed, offered to us, and worshiped by us, in one way, and God not preached, nor revealed, nor offered to us, nor worshiped by us, in another way. Wherever God hides Himself, and wills to be unknown to us, there we have no concern. Here that sentiment: ‘what is above us does not concern us’, really holds good.”
Luther takes this distinction from St. Paul,
who writes to the Thessalonians of [the] Antichrist that “he should exalt himself above all that is God preached and worshipped” (2 Thess. 2:4); clearly intimating that a man can be exalted above God as He is preached and worshipped, that is above the word and worship of God, by which [God] is known to us and has dealings with us. But above God as He is in His own nature and majesty, nothing can be exalted, but all things are under His powerful hand.
Now, God in His own nature and majesty is to be left alone; in this regard, we have nothing to do with Him, nor does He wish us to deal with Him. We have to do with Him as clothed and displayed in His Word, by which He presents Himself to us. That is His glory and beauty, in which the Psalmist proclaims Him to be clothed (cf. Ps. 21:5). I say the righteous God does not deplore the death of His people, which He Himself works in them, but He deplores the death which He finds in His people and desires to remove from them. God preached works to the end that sin and death may be taken away, and we may be saved. “[God] sent his Word and healed them” (Ps. 107:20). But God hidden in majesty neither deplores or takes away death, but works life, and death, and all in all; nor has He set bounds to Himself by His Word, but kept Himself free of all things.
The Diatribe [of Erasmus] is deceived by its own ignorance in that it makes no distinction between God preached and God hidden, that is, between the Word of God and God Himself. God does many things that He does not show us in His Word and He wills many things that He does not in His Word show us that He wills.
At this point I wrote “evolution” into the margin of the book, because the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden appears in the written word, in the Holy Scriptures, and not evolution, which God does not show us in the Scriptures. God did not show us evolution, the ways and means of divine creation, like the development of the embryo in the womb of a mother, as the ascent of life from one living cell through all the branches of the plant and animal kingdoms until the various species of hominids unfold into Homo sapiens, and behold, God’s creation of human beings and their dominion over the planet Earth.
In a sense, modern science has gone beyond the written Word of God, because more of God has become revealed through the scientific method. The inscrutable will of God still obtains for the existence of evil, morality, and mortality, that is, the fact that we die against the will of God preached, offered, and worshiped. The scientific method, however, has rifled more revelation from the hidden God in terms of the material or physical and natural aspects of creation.
Antiquity, of course, also believed in a three-story, geo-centric universe, now ascribed to the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy (90 to 168 A.D.). This concept of the universe describes the earth, with heaven above and hell or the underworld below composing the three stories. See Figure 1. The vault of the sky was held up by the mountains and this vault or dome kept heaven’s water above the earth. They reasoned that this water on high made the sky blue. The sun revolved around the earth going down into the underworld each night, traveling through it to be reborn or rise each morning again. They distinguished sub-lunar space below the moon, lunar and solar space for the moon and sun, and astral space for the stars. When the windows of heaven opened it rained. They took the earth to be flat, because the heliocentric Copernican revolution was still 2,000 years ahead in the future.
That the inspired writers of Scripture believed in the three story universe and that our conception of the universe has undergone several further paradigm shifts even since Copernicus does not take away from the essential revelation of the Word of God. This paradigm of the universe is merely the mold in which the Good News of Jesus Christ is cast. If, however, we say that the word of God requires our belief in the three-story Ptolemaic
Universe, then a nonessential has been made an essential for our faith. The Good News that God loves us and sent Jesus Christ to show us God’s heart full of steadfast love — and what’s more, the way of salvation for the world — becomes even sweeter in face of our planet Earth in space revolving around the sun and our solar system swirling with other stars and their planets in the galaxy of the Milky Way around a mysterious black hole that swallows up the stars that near its event horizon.
That God is not “up there” in the three story universe nor “out there” in space does not mean that God is not in a spiritual dimension, from which God is continuously creating the universe – think of the birth and death of stars of the macrocosm as well as sustaining the even as yet undiscovered sub-atomic particles of the microcosm. What’s more, God is guiding history and will consummate it by Christ’s coming again, while also residing in us and sustaining us in the inmost personal depths of our beings.
Although science uncovers some of the things done by the hidden God, if we do so with humility and good faith, then – we pray -despite all of Luther’s warnings, the wrath of God will not be en-flamed. God understands that we are coming of age and in the issues that we face today, we need to be weaned from milk to meat and potatoes. Thus for the sake of all the advances in science and the precarious times these have launched us into and our need for Christ’s salvation, we pray for the loving willingness of God to reveal more of God’s divine majesty. Evolution, the search for life on other planets, and the whole modern conception of the physical universe are just some of the cases in point.
The question arises about what to make of the Genesis story of creation and the Garden of Eden in the face of evolution. Synthetic evolution, that is, evolution that includes genetics, can be interpreted as the way today’s science understands the means by which God created human beings. When compared with the titanic theogonies (the birth and dismemberment of gods and goddesses) in the Babylonian creation myths, Genesis demythologizes the creation story in the scientific terms of antiquity, but not without God. Theologically Genesis confesses the Creator making the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden a very simple but personal and meaningful story. The truth of that story is involved in its happening over and over again in every marriage and harmonious community, until the happy sin or fortunate fall takes place, as St. Augustine calls it, and humanity has to grow to a higher level of maturity again.
Then again, in the triumph of eternity over time, where the original story becomes our human destiny in God’s future, to take a thought from Nicholas Berdyaev, the Garden of Eden still lies before us as well as the holy City of the new Jerusalem, which are brought to us in Christ’s second coming.
In conclusion, those who want to shrink the hidden majesty of God completely into the revealed God of Scriptures, in a material or physical and natural sense, that is, – because here I am not including the essential theological and moral sense — are, like Erasmus, not taking account of the majesty and awe required for the hidden God. For those kinds of believers I merely recite the title of J.B. Phillip’s book: “Your God is too small!”
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 J.I. Packer & O.R. Johnston, editors, Martin Luther: Bondage of the Will, (Grand Rapids Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), page 169.
 Ibid., page 170.
 I’m referring to Bishop John A. T. Robinson’s recasting the mold in Honest to God. (Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1963), page 11ff.
 See the idea about a spiritual dimension in which God resides comes from my Dobzhansky Book Review http://www.scholardarity.com/?page_id=901 in Scholardarity. Karl Heim in his book Christian Faith and Natural Science, (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1953) calls it a non-objective dimension and gets his idea from Edwin A. Abbott’s work, Flatland: a Romance of Many Dimensions, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1963). Also see Barbara Brown Taylor’s, The Luminous Web: Essays on Science and Religion, (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2000), for thinking that recasts the mold around the essential gospel of Jesus Christ and the way of salvation.
 I first spoke of an eternal dimension, in which the past takes place in the future. If one considers time as a fourth dimension, then how much more should eternity be considered a dimension as well. Nicholas Berdyaev, (1874-1948) the Russian Christian existentialist philosopher, felt that no divisions like past, present, and future obtained in the time of eternity. He writes of a fourth dimension as a celestial reality, which is not possible to attain by progress. “Instead of seeing absolute life as a transition from terrestrial to celestial history, it presupposes an ultimate solution of human destiny within the framework of terrestrial relations, a final integration of the three dimensional world. It desires to humanize that absolute perfection and beatitude which can only be attained in the celestial reality and only contained in the fourth dimension.” Nicholas Berdyaev, The Meaning of History, Translated from the Russian by George Reavey, (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1936), page 166.
 “The historical tradition is precisely this inner historical memory which is transposed into historical destiny. The philosophy of history represents a certain spiritualization and transfiguration of the historical process. …For just as there exists an afterlife in relation to individual life, so the great historical paths likewise lead us to such a world.” Nicholas Berdyaev, The Meaning of History, page 29. If Berdyaev argues this way for history per se, then how much more can we hope for a Garden of Eden in the salvation history of God’s future.
PARENT PAGE: Religious Studies