Faith Matters: Martin Luther - a man who made a real difference

Writer Eric Metaxas: Has written a powerful book about the 16th century reformer Martin Luther.
Writer Eric Metaxas: Has written a powerful book about the 16th century reformer Martin Luther.

I recently had the privilege of standing in Germany’s beautiful Wittenberg.

I stood before the church door where, on October 31, 1517, 95 theses were nailed and a reformation that changed our world began.

It was an innocent attempt to stimulate debate on issues of importance that led ultimately to people being burnt at the stake and the man who wrote them put under an edict of death.

I expect that when you stifle debate there are eventually casualties who suffer at the hands of those who don’t want you to make your point.

I also enjoyed the privilege of drinking beer and enjoying a German sausage in potato soup in the same pub that the man with his theses once frequented some 500 years before.

His name was Martin Luther – not to be confused with the civil rights campaigner, Martin Luther King, who was named after him.

Accompanying me on my journey to Wittenberg was an excellent book by Eric Metaxas on this 16th century reformer.

The impact of Martin Luther is quite incredible. He translated from the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts the whole Bible into German.

There is no doubt that Luther had a brilliant mind but he recognised that human truth had its limits.

But as he did this, he shaped in so many ways the German language and culture, the impact of which is still felt today.

There is no doubt that Luther had a brilliant mind but he recognised that human truth had its limits.

As Metaxas puts it: “Luther came to believe that the very idea that mere human reason could reach heaven was not merely wrong but a hubristic folly.

“How with human words and thoughts could we bridge the infinite distance between man and God, between earth and heaven?”

The Bible speaks of such an attempt in the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11 - a people smart in their own thinking believed they had the wisdom and tools to remove God from His throne and replace Him with themselves.

That did not end well for them but left people in total confusion. No surprise there!

Metaxas expresses the issue as Luther saw it wonderfully: “…Aristotle and philosophy and reason could take us to the top of a very high mountain. But what then?

“They could not fashion wings for us, with which we could fly the rest of the way to God. They would leave us standing on the top of the mountain.

“We could stretch and strain all we like but we would never touch the blueness of the sky itself. God must bring the sky to us and therefore it must be divine revelation initiated by God to bridge the most unbridgeable of all gulfs.”

Every day, like dogs returning to their own vomit, our political world’s hubris is exposed – each person clever in their own eyes but hopelessly divided and full of quarrels.

They may get to the top of the mountain but what then? It is the “what then” that the nation awaits with uncertainty. 

I am personally grateful to God, that to use Metaxas’s words, God brought the sky to us when He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ into the world.

Luther knew that Jesus Christ was the bridge from where human reason fails us to the beginning of wisdom.

I can only hope that those who rise to power in this country will recognise the bridge God offers between the limits of human reason and the wisdom of God.

Personally, I will be praying for them and I hope you will also.

Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas is available from Koorong Bookshop in Armidale. It is worth a read.

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