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A Life Focused on the Gospel

Turkish title: Çarmıh Ruhsallığı

Original title: The Spirituality of the Cross

Author: Gene Edward Veith

Veith explores and presents a true understanding of justification by faith, the means of grace, vocation, theology of the cross, the two kingdoms, worship, and the church.
This is a well written introduction to understand what Lutherans believe in with a focus toward spirituality. The discussion covers the theology of the cross, the hiddeness of God and Luther's idea of vocation.

Veith’s Spirituality of the Cross does not contemplate the wood itself but our spiritual response to Christ’s sacrifice. Veith explains that there are three ways that people try to live spiritual lives: morally, intellectually, and mystically or emotionally. In each one of these endeavors, humans fall short. Lutheran spirituality, therefore, begins by accepting that humans can do nothing to reach God. Salvation is not a decision that we make but is totally the work of God. Yet, Lutherans don’t throw away morality, intellectuality, and emotionalism; rather these emanate from our dependence upon God.

How do we know God? Veith reminds us that the Bible is a living Word that not only conveys God’s message but also is a means of grace that inscribes the gift of faith in our hearts. The Bible’s message can be divided into Law, which convicts us, and Gospel, which delivers us from our fallen state. The Gospel is also delivered to us through the sacraments of baptism and communion. Taking God’s Word at face value, Lutherans believe that the Holy Spirit is present in baptism and that Christ is present in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. According to Scripture, baptism unites us with Christ in his death and resurrection. In baptism, we passively receive Christ’s salvation and baptism continues to drown our sinful self and identify us with Christ. Again, this grace is nothing that we do, so in times of doubt or trouble, we need to cling to God’s work in our baptism rather than to our work. Communion is also God coming to us from the outside. The Lord’s Supper is God sustenance for us. We cannot live without food that comes from death, whether it is the death of plants and animals that nourish our bodies or the body and blood of Jesus which sustains our spiritual life.

How do we see God? Veith reminds us that hiding is an important tenant of our theology. God is hidden. He did not come to us in pretentious glory and power, and he does not promise us a showy life of wealth and success. Jesus’ life and death on the cross teaches, in fact, that the spiritual life has to do with weakness, defeat, and suffering. Yet, purposely suffering through asceticism does not lead to greater spirituality since it another form of ostentation. Because we are fallen humans whose salvation does not depend on ourselves, we may not even appear much different from those around us. Yet, our fallen self is hidden from God through our identification with Christ’s sacrifice.

Veith extends his discussion of the “hiddenness” of God to our vocation. Vocations not only include our employment but all aspects of our lives: parent, child, worker, citizen. God works through us in our serving of family, neighbor, employer, and country. God, in fact, rules two kingdoms, the earthly realm and spiritual. In our earthly realm, God gives us what we need through the vocations of other people rather than through manna falling from heaven. He hides himself in the ordinary functions of life. In vocations we serve our neighbors and show again our dependence on God through our dependence on our communities. Faith and prayer, of course, are also important to our vocation. Without faith, our work is empty of meaning.

Just as God rules two kingdoms, we live in two kingdoms. God rules his earthly kingdom with his moral law, which restrains sin in society. Even those lacking beliefs are under God’s providential care. God rules his spiritual kingdom by love. As citizens of both kingdoms, Christians are to be active members in our culture through our vocations and through following the moral law which guides our society.

In conclusion, Veith returns to his distinction of three paths of spirituality: good works, learning, and emotion. Lutheran worship involves all three of these. Spirituality of the cross negates moralism but inspires selfless service. The liturgical readings, hymns, and sermons are explorations of Biblical texts by which we learn about God. Finally, through the Word and Sacraments, what is ordinary becomes a true mystical union with Christ.

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