Luther on Vocation 17

luther on vocationThe penultimate chapter in Gustaf Wingren’s Luther on Vocation is entitled “Stündelein,” which Carl C. Rasmussen variously translates as “their time,” “the time,” or “the hour.”

What does this have to do with vocation?

Begin with Ecclesiastes 3:1: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”  Martin Luther inferred from this that “all human labors and efforts have their fixed time to be started, to be effected, and to be concluded.”  “It is vain…to try to succeed before the time….”  In this way, man is “in bondage to God.”

If we are in bondage to God with respect to the effects of our labor, how can man “have dominion over creation”?  By making “use of things in the now.”  While “we can only wait for the future,” “right where the future becomes present, we can act.”  What we have to do now did not just spring up by accident.  God is giving that task to us at that particular moment “together with the relationships with others in our situation which the moment brings.”  And “to use the moment and the time which God gives is to enter into one’s vocation,” and “it is in this way that what God ordains for ‘the time’ is realized.”

To recap: “man is free to live according to God’s will as a worker together with God, in the interest of service to his neighbor” in the present.  In this cooperation with God, we experience creative freedom “in the execution of the action which is given and commanded for the time.”

The flipside: “we cannot control matters by our own decisions.”  So “man is not to rack his brain about the future, but live in the hour that has come,” “receptive to God, who is present now and has something he will do now.”  This is “same as living in faith.”  “All anticipatory anxieties and all precise planning for the future are fruitless and meaningless.”

Instead, since God “has kept everything in his hands” and “no one on earth can carry through his plans,” one must “first seek [God’s] counsel” by prayer.  Through prayer, we “surrender uneasiness about the future to God, so that man himself no longer has that uneasiness, but lets God have it.”  Then, “inner security and freedom from apprehension comes as a gift from God.”  And “God bestows his gifts on him who labors faithfully in his vocation and surrenders all attempt to determine the course of his life himself.”

This is summed up in this classic Lutheran pronouncement involving the law and the gospel:

The Word of God impels man to faith, rather than to pious searching into God’s plans: and as law the Word of God impels man to the work of his vocation.  In the course of man’s work in his vocation God’s will is fulfilled step by step.  Therein what God has willed is made evident.  God’s decree comes to light as one “time” follows the other; and through performance of his vocation man himself enters into God’s work in its time, acting as an instrument of that which is to be.  Then he does not, as before, stand in unbelief before God, wrenched loose from bondage to God and obeying his own will so as to squirm out of the grip of “the time,” while attempting to learn in advance what God’s will is.  This person, who has religious questions and ideas but not faith, is by his very nature striving to be master over God, always searching for a timeless knowledge about God, a knowledge without God’s Word.”

Words to live by, especially for all of us who mask our lack of faith with the label, “Type A.”

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