It has been a LONG time, but continuing our look at Ngien’s volume, we now turn to the meditation on blessings. Luther offers 7 images of evil and 7 images of blessing that are to guide our meditation. The first image is of “internal blessings” which are those blessings the believer possesses within themselves (beauty, strength, intelligence, etc.). These attributes are, as it were, “salted” with “the relics of the cross” in this world. “Evil,” Ngien continues, “is the seasoning necessary to preserve the savor of blessing” (58). The second image is delineated as “the blessing before us.” These are the future blessings in which we can find our comfort. Like Christ therefore, who for the sake of what was before him endured the cross, believers can rest in the blessings which are promised but not yet grasped.
Thirdly, Luther suggests the “blessing behind us.” Since redemption is fundamentally God’s work, truly by grace, the believer can boast in the work that God has done and continues to do. Next, Luther suggest the image of the “blessing beneath us.” Like the third image, this image forces our mind and heart to the God who elects. “Beneath us,” as it were, lie souls who were not saved – the damned. These images work together to turn our attention to the God who is both faithful as well as just. Meditating on both his goodness and his wrath keep the heart straight, turned to God as he has revealed himself.
The fifth and sixth images are the “blessing on our left hand,” and the “blessing on our right hand,” respective. The left hand depicts the enemies we will have in this life (enemies which Luther knew all too well). Meditation on the enemies who are richly blessed in this world gives us hope that God will all the more bless those who are truly faithful to him. Likewise, the right hand depicts the communion of saints in which you participate. In Luther’s words,
Therefore, when we feel pain, when we suffer, when we die, let us turn to this, firmly believing and certain that it is not we alone, but Christ and the church who are in pain and suffering and dying with us. Christ does not want us to be alone on the road of death, from which all mortals shrink. Indeed, we set out upon the road of suffering and death accompanied by the entire church…All that remains for us now is to pray that our eyes, the eyes of our faith, may be opened that we may see the church around us” (63-64).
The last image Luther suggests is the “blessing above us.” Christ’s resurrection is the greatest blessing for the believer. Again, in Luther’s words, “I am a sinner, but I am borne by his righteousness which is given to me. I am unclean, but his holiness is my sanctification, in which I ride gently. I am an ignorant fool, but his wisdom carries me forward. I deserve condemnation, but I am set free by his redemption, which is a safe wagon for me” (64). As the image “above us” calls us to set our mind and heart on heaven, it does so only after we have contemplated the reality of evil in our hearts, in the world and, for the damned, in eternity. Likewise, our meditation has focused on the givenness of God’s grace, and therefore orients our hearts and minds to God, in Christ. Luther puts it well,
This, then, is the most sublime image, for in it we are lifted up not only above our evils, but even above our blessings, and we are set down in the midst of strange blessings gathered by the labors of another, whereas formerly we lay among evils that were also brought about by the sin of another and enlarged by our own (Rom. 5:17). We are set down, I say, in Christ’s righteousness, with which he himself is righteous, because we cling to that righteousness where he himself is acceptable to God, intercedes for us as our mediator, and gives himself wholly to us as our high priest and protector” (65).
Any thoughts about this? I find Luther’s work here to be incredibly realistic, if that makes sense. In other words, he does not offer a piety so focused on perfection that it makes no sense of sin and evil. On the contrary, Luther’s account makes no sense without sin and evil around ever corner! This seems missing in the piety found in much of the church today. It is realistic but not lackadaisical.