God & the State

Friends, in looking at the discussion about marriage, I am astonished that so many of you are willing to throw out Two Kingdoms theology, the doctrine of vocation, and the state itself just because you don’t like our current government! There are lots of misunderstandings here, but it’s important that we get this right, especially today with all of our governmental woes. Also, I realize that the Reformed, Anabaptists, and other theological traditions will have a different take on this (though I believe Calvin would agree with Luther on much of this), but here are the basics of a Lutheran theology of the state:

According to Luther, God established three “estates,” three human institutions in which we all have vocations: the church, the family, and the state.

The state in this sense is not just the local political establishment. It has something of what we today call “culture.” Luther was aware of the different kinds and qualities of human government–from the pious German prince to the tyrannical Sultan of the Turks, from the Roman Republic and the free, self-governing German cities of the Hanseatic League to the Emperor–and he knew how they could go wrong. But the state itself has more to do with community, social customs, and life in the world. Call it the “civil order.”

The family and hence marriage, which can be defined as starting a family, are certainly part of the civil order. In fact, it is the foundational vocation of the civil order and of the state itself. Marriage comes under the laws of the civil order; that is, the state.

It was objected in the discussion that God made Adam and Eve married before there was a state. First of all, Adam and Eve in Eden constituted a state! Second, it is ALWAYS God who joins men and women in holy matrimony so that, as Jesus said, no man should put them asunder. God doesn’t have to work through means. But now He has chosen to work through means, including human vocation. It’s God who gives us our daily bread through farmers, heals us through physicians, creates new life through parents, and protects us–and establishes marriage–through the authorities He has established in the state.

To make the church rule in marriage gives the church a temporal and civil authority it must not have. Yes, Christian marriages are better, just as all vocations become true callings and more than mere offices in the light of faith, but God works through the earthly realm, including the state, just as He works through the church, though in different ways.

This, at least, is the Lutheran view. Isn’t it?

Marriage: The church and the state

Discussion in the post yesterday about civil unions came around to the notion that the state should get out of the marriage business, that it should just be a matter for the church.

I can see that if you are a Roman Catholic. But if you are a Protestant–especially if you are a Lutheran–that seems problematic.

Lutherans don’t believe that marriage is a sacrament. After all, non-Christians can get married. It’s a matter of the Kingdom of the Left. It’s a matter of state law, not the law of the church. At least that was the case Luther was making against the technicalities and restrictions of canon law.

It’s true that marriage is a matter of “what God has joined. . .” And that Christ is hidden in marriage. Still, it’s an example of God’s working in His earthly kingdom, not that of the church. That is to say, marriage is a vocation.

God works through the lawful authority of the state to create marriages. A couple with a marriage license who got married in Vegas are married in the eyes of God. A couple who had a church ceremony without that license are not married. A married couple who have been divorced in court are divorced. The Church of Rome can say that since divorce doesn’t exist under church law, they are still married, but Protestants don’t say that. Pastors presiding at a wedding declare the marriage “by the authority invested in me by the state of _____”

That doesn’t mean the state can invent marriages of people whom God has not joined together. That would be a violation of the ruler’s vocation. Still, it seems to me that it makes a very big difference how the state regulates marriage, and that Christians cannot just opt out of that.

Never waste a crisis

From the President’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel:

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

What do you think he meant by that? (He said it back in November.) Don’t you find that a rather scary philosophy of governing?

But are there other, more benign, applications of that maxim, not in government but in the vocations of business, churches, families, and everyday life?

The spiritual affliction of Acedia

Looking for something else, I came across some material on acedia, that spiritual state characterized by boredom, ennui, apathy, listlessness, just giving up and not caring anymore.

It’s a condition much discussed and treated in the centuries-long literature of spiritual directors, for churches that have such things–i.e., Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, especially in monastic circles. It’s a species of the vice of sloth. See this this article from the monastic tradition, which calls acedia “the bane of solitaries,” relates it to existential angst, and says it isn’t a sin so much, though it dangerously saps the gratitude for living and attacks the impulse of charity; that is, love of neighbor.

Acedia is said to be distinct from the psychological condition of depression. I suspect, though, that when most Christians go through this, not having access to any experienced spiritual counselors and left only with the medical profession as a resource, it’s often diagnosed as depression. Maybe some cases of what used to be called acedia really are depression. And maybe some cases of depression are really acedia. Perhaps depression is a symptom of acedia, or vice versa. (One way to distinguish the two may be the extent to which anti-depressant drugs help or don’t.)

At any rate, this spate of spiritual dryness afflicts many if not most Christians at one time or another, particularly pastors. The author Kathleen Norris has gone through one of these debilitating times and has written about it in a book Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life.

This story in USA Today tells about her experience and how God pulled her out of it. From Norris writes Acedia, finds Gods joy again:

When the tentacles of acedia encroach, she turns to the Lords Prayer. St. Gregory of Nyssa calls it “a way to remember that the life in which we ought to be interested is daily life. … Our Lord tells us to pray for today, and so he prevents us from tormenting ourselves about tomorrow.” There it is: One is saved by the small daily acts, by the most ordinary.

This recalls the doctrine of vocation, which finds God’s presence in the realm of the ordinary. Acedia is a word we need to add to our vocabulary. Have any of you wrestled with this? What helped?

Trickle Down vs. Seep Up economics

Republicans trying to help the economy have pushed for “trickle down economics.” That is, help businesses, who, in turn, will hire more people, which will increase prosperity for all. Democrats tend to favor what we might term “seep up economics.” (Hey, maybe there is my contribution of a new term. I couldn’t find it on google.) The idea is to help individual workers, who, in turn, will have money to spend that will help businesses.

The cornerstone of Barack Obama’s stimulus plan is massive spending to repair the nation’s roads and bridges. Also money to weatherproof buildings, build new school buildings, etc. In other words, much of the money and the job creation will go to construction companies.

I worked construction putting myself through college, and I honor those workers. That industry requires highly-skilled and specialized experts–not just anyone can work steel or operate a crane or survey gradients–as well as lower-skilled laborers like I was. Those latter jobs, though, are taken up largely today by not-always-legal immigrants. Contractors say that Americans often don’t want those jobs, not finding hauling lumber, digging ditches, and pouring concrete all that fulfulling. (I did all of those jobs, to the great benefit of my character!) Will massive government spending to create these kinds of jobs actually employ 4 million Americans, as planned, or just create an even bigger market for illegal immigrants?

How would a huge infusion of cash into road construction help the typical laid off factory worker or the downsized company executive or the busted Wall Street investor? I suppose the theory is that a construction boom would help the factories that make the equipment and raise the stock of the companies that own the factories, which, in turn, would help other businesses. But
do you think seep up economics like this will really give the economy the help it needs?

Of Institutions & Vocation

Columnist David Brooks discusses a book by political scientist Hugh Heclo entitled “On Thinking Institutionally,” which he contrasts with the individualistic approach to life. Isn’t another name for what he is talking about VOCATION?

“In this way of living, to borrow an old phrase, we are not defined by what we ask of life. We are defined by what life asks of us. As we go through life, we travel through institutions — first family and school, then the institutions of a profession or a craft.

Each of these institutions comes with certain rules and obligations that tell us how to do what we’re supposed to do. Journalism imposes habits that help reporters keep a mental distance from those they cover. Scientists have obligations to the community of researchers. In the process of absorbing the rules of the institutions we inhabit, we become who we are.

New generations don’t invent institutional practices. These practices are passed down and evolve. So the institutionalist has a deep reverence for those who came before and built up the rules that he has temporarily taken delivery of. “In taking delivery,” Heclo writes, “institutionalists see themselves as debtors who owe something, not creditors to whom something is owed.”

The rules of a profession or an institution are not like traffic regulations. They are deeply woven into the identity of the people who practice them. A teacher’s relationship to the craft of teaching, an athlete’s relationship to her sport, a farmer’s relation to her land is not an individual choice that can be easily reversed when psychic losses exceed psychic profits. Her social function defines who she is. The connection is more like a covenant.

HT: Frank Sonnek