„Lazarus, who lay in the grave and received the call, ‚Come out!‘ did not have freedom of choice“ – Hans Joachim Iwand on the Freedom of the Christian and the Bondage of the Will

Camillo Boccaccino - The Raising of Lazarus
Camillo Boccaccino – The Raising of Lazarus (Fresco, 1540)

There are not so many texts of Hans Joachim Iwand (1899-1960) available in English. As one of the leading Lutheran Theologians of the 20th century in Germany, he was an advocate of Luthers teaching on the bondage of the will. In his contribution to the Festschrift for his theological teacher Rudolf Hermann (1887-1962) titled „The Freedom of the Christian and The Bondage of the Will“ (translated by Jacob Corzine), Iwand wrote:

The half-dead man who fell to the robbers and was fed and saved by the Samaritan did not have the possibility of „conducting“ himself with regard to his savior. Lazarus, who lay in the grave and received the call, „Come out!“ did not have freedom of choice. Freedom falls away in the real encounter with the grace of God; real freedom falls away where the real liberation of man, freedom as an event from God, comes to meet us. What does this mean then: se applicare ad salutem (to turn to salvation)? That is exactly what I am not able to do. That is in fact the deepest misery of man, that he is not able to complete this turning about by himself, by means of his own potential.

The will that drives him, that rules in him, is a will irreversibly directed and oriented toward itself. As the river which runs down the streambed cannot turn itself, so man is unable to turn himself. The real turning toward God does not lie in my possibilities; I would have to cease being who I am, the earthly, fleshly, lost man. That is not to say that the turning about cannot happen, but that when it happens, the limit of all human potential has been reached. This means that the reality of my life begins where God’s potential begins. What is impossible with us is possible with God. So Luther can say, „For you do not consider how great a thing you attribute to him with this pronoun se or se ipsam, whenever you say: he is able to apply himself; but precisely in saying that, you absolutely exclude the Holy Spirit with all his power as being superfluous and unnecessary“ (WA 18: 665.13; AE 33: 109).

But now we turn the matter around and look at the great as­ set of what appears to be our desperate situation. The desperate part is not that man cannot turn himself by himself; nor is it that he remains in his inmost being an aversus against God; but that this man, through that false call to decision, repeatedly has to be whipped again, like a workhorse drooping from pulling its heavy load. That has to end with the man finally lying in despair on the edge of the road. The call to decision has assumed something that it fundamentally cannot assume: se applicare ad salutem. As little as the lame man can move himself into the water at the pool of Bethesda, so little can man throw himself into the purifying flood of grace. The leap of faith first succeeds only when the faith is there!

There is no leap out of unfaith into faith. From this perspective, one can also understand Luther’s polemic against „works,“ insofar as these are understood as „acts“ of that „free“ will that also wants to remain free. In reality, nothing happens in these acts; there is no turning; the man who stands behind them remains who he is. These acts are only the appearance of a turning toward God, one which does not succeed, because the will cannot move itself, or at least is unable to bring itself into movement against itself.

So we see that the bound will is not a lack of will (noluntas), nor is it a „determination“ from the outside; the bound will is the will according to its human reality at the end of history. Just as the stream has its declination, the fleshly will has its inclination, and nothing belongs to it per se -that is, that lies inside of our human possibilities – that can lead us beyond that. When­ ever we turn ourselves to salvation, it is only an apparent turn, a Fata Morgana. We will always seek our own salvation, salus nostra; that is, we will seek ourselves. Only when God’s salvation turns itself toward us, when a motion from God toward us occurs, when God’s action remains outside of the realm of our possibilities, are we able to believe and be saved. This can never occur where man is active, which is why all Aktpsychologie is amiss in the things of faith. No justitia activa (active righteousness) helps here. Rather, we will be passive, wherever God’s grace truly meets us, where it seeks and finds us; passive, in the sense that this encounter occurs for us in suffering.

Everything that facere quod in se est (to do what is in one) means, is that we turn ourselves in circles in all directions. The active will must turn in circles. Only suffering can tear us out of this course. One begins to understand Luther in his fight against works first, when he sees this inner connection. The man of the free will lives by his works. „Adam is edified by works!“ The call to action is always an edifying affair for the Old Adam. But, „works are destroyed by the cross.“ Through the cross, the opera are torn down. Since man hides himself behind his works, God must tear down our capability through suffering; he must lay flat all of the wall that we have placed and continue to place between him and ourselves, so that he can truly reach us. Only in naked passivity, in being that which I actually am, does his grace seek to find me. In this way God’s reality meets the reality of man. So the two correspond to each other: faith and passive righteousness.

Here the complete text „The Freedom of the Christian and The Bondage of the Will“ as a pdf.

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