There will be no post tomorrow (Friday, January 23)
because I have been invited to speak at a conference
at Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Ft. Wayne,
Indiana. The blog will resume on Saturday.
The next beam from supernature onto nature is the light of divine promise. Two revealed promises are especially important. The first is the promise of forgiveness -- divine assurance that God restores repentant sinners who accept the means of grace. From this we learn not to despair of our sins against others. The second is the promise of providence -- divine assurance that in the end, God will set everything to rights. From this we learn not despair of the sins of others against us. Only because of these two promises can conscience serve not as a rock to crush us, but as a dog to hound us home.
Here I can be brief, because I have discussed these matters in other writings. Suffice it to say that without the former promise, the face of natural law would be only a face of accusation. Few could bear to look at it at all; none could bear to look at it steadily. Without the latter promise, the same accusing face would be turned outward. Contemplation of the wrongs of the world would drive us to yet greater wrongs, on the principle “let us do evil that good may result.” Whether by its own guilt or by rage at the guilt of all others, intellect would be undermined, and the counsels of natural law would be pulled in perverse directions.
Since every promise affirms something, the promissory sort of light might seem just a variation on the affirmative sort that we have considered already. Such a conclusion would miss the point, because promises affi rm a different class of truths, illuminating the intellect in a distinctive manner. How so? Ordinary affirmations -- man is made in God’s image, spouses join as one flesh, divorce betrays posterity -- draw the attention of natural reason to creational realities right under its nose, which it might otherwise have slighted or overlooked. Promises do something different, because they inform natural reason of something it never could have known: the place of natural law in the economy of salvation.
Although both kinds of light act upon the thinker’s mind, they do so in different ways. One merely adds to his data, the other one purges his will. Assured of God’s mercy, the thinker no longer needs the false comfort of thinking himself better than he is. Assured of God’s providence, he is also freed from the equally false need to play God with others. Cleansed of both kinds of despair, he can think about the natural law more honestly because he is no longer desperate or afraid. Hope turns out to be not only a spiritual virtue but an intellectual virtue as well.
Continued on Saturday