I’ve started working through the Christian Year of Grace by Johann Spangenberg, a contemporary of Luther who, as a pastor and educator, wanted to provide laypeople a guide to help with the devotional reading of the newly-available Scriptures. He took the appointed Scripture readings for each Sunday, then–as a classical educator trained in dialectic–offered questions and answers that take the reader deeply into the riches of these texts.
After the jump, I’ll give you an excerpt from his treatment of Romans 11:33-36, the Epistle reading for Trinity Sunday: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God: how incomprehensible are His judgments, how unsearchable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord?”
From Johann Spangenberg, Christian Year of Grace:
9. How have philosophers and worldly scholars acted in these matters?
They have tried to approach the Godhead from above, which is why they have erred. One must approach from below with the manhood of Christ, which can be grasped, and then go up to the Godhead through the propositions of Scripture, lest we fulfill the words of Proverbs 25 [:8]: “If anyone searches out difficult things, it will be too hard for him and confound him.” . . .Scripture approaches God gradually, leading us to Christ first as Lord, finally as God. This is the right way to gain knowledge.
He gives as examples the “sophists and Scholastics” who approach God “from above,” as an abstract object of speculation, a philosophical idea. To approach God in this way is to present ourselves as His equals, or even His superiors, assuming that God is like any other object in the universe and that He is completely comprehensible to someone of our intellect.
My application: Consider, for instance, what is going on when we discuss whether or not He is righteous enough to exist, or whether there is so much bad in the world that a good God cannot exist. This is to approach God “from above,” from an altitude of our moral superiority. This is to judge God, whether we are condemning Him or justifying Him. Whereas He is properly the ground of our moral sensibility and is the one who judges us and condemns or justifies us.
To approach Him “from below” would be to meet Him where He has come to us, in His incarnation, Jesus Christ. We can thus consider questions like the problem of evil “from below” through the lens of the Cross–in which He took the evils and the griefs of the world into Himself for the world’s redemption–to a very different significance.