Faith and Prayer: My Notes on Helmut Gollwitzer Last Lecture – ca. July, 1975
Faith and Prayer
Faith is life-help. It is the making-easier of life. [It helps life. It makes life easier.] In this sense, doing without faith is heroic, because wanting to have an easier life presupposes that the human being is weak. But we have to face the difficulties of life making our lives become harder and as Isaiah says, The Lord captures the strong to make them his own. /1
The cross is the attack of the old life on the new. Some why questions are not really necessary for life and life does not depend on answering them. But the question, for what am I called? is not of that sort of question, nor questions about suffering. The Greek word peristasi refers to apostolic suffering in II Cor. 6: We are continually suffering, but behold we live; filled with anxiety, but behold we live. The latter way of putting it is psychological. But it is our calling to be set aside to undertake the harder life, the life fraught with difficulty.
Thus important provisos are needed in our vocation. Amen, for example, does not mean, “I believe that… , but it means entrusting oneself to a person or relying on a promise. Faith draws a person into an assignment, a task, a mission, and questions have to be asked:
A. Does the cause have some hope of success?
B. Am I left to my own resources? Does it all depend on me?
C. How will I change in the course of doing it?
Will I also accomplish the goal of my life in the course of it?
D. What will happen to me if I make mistakes or if I fail?
E. What will happen to me and to this good cause if the Sender remains hidden?
Answer: You are not alone, along with this call you will achieve the goal of your life, your failure is forgiven, and God will be present with all the promises. God is going with you. So consider his word far more true and more trustworthy than all your inner experience, [all your internal misgivings and trepidations].
A. Faith is different from having faith (Gläubigkeit).
Faith is always a new act; one cannot have faith.
B. Faith is not a Weltanschauung, not a way to view the world
and does not stand in competition to ideologies and life systems.
Faith is not holding something to be true, i.e., believing statements to be true.
C. Faith cannot be achieved by means of inner speculation. It is looking up to another. I do not know if I believe, but I know in whom I believe.
On this issue,
1. Paul Althaus held that we cannot believe in our faith, [or believe in our belief. ]
2. Karl Barth held, however, that we can only believe in our belief.
D. Faith itself is an act or deed and not a psychological disposition. It is a good work in which the other good works are grounded – it is mighty in itself, and emancipated. It is all involved in and all about the sending. (See N.B. in the footnotes.)
E. Faith is not acting by oneself or doing something by oneself, nor is it a belief that is then externalized, so that faith stands chronologically or psychologically before the act. It is there together with all the other acts; in, with, and under the act there is faith. It does not come first before the act, but our faith inheres in our doing. Faith does not precede works.
CALLING – PARTICIPATION – FAITH
– WORKS –
It is not upon our works that we depend, but we depend completely upon him. Luther said, faith is the doer, love is the deed. For your sending remember that God’s name means “I will be with you.” The I am will be with you and has sent you. Here the one who sends you promises to be with you in the future.
Faith is the hope of love. Faith makes life harder, more difficult, through the sending. And there is always an attack on the new life by the old and sharing oneself is very difficult.
In the identity of prayer and faith, four questions are directed at the Sender. I grasp the answers for them from the one who promises. These are questions of faith with hefty complaints directed to God. Struggling and arguing with God can be a form of trust that is acceptable to God./2
Concerning bidding prayer: we have discovered that the events of nature occur by means of specific laws. It is not true that wonders violate these laws. The word used for miracles in Greek is dynamis and it means “signs of strength” or “astonishing signs” or “things that astonish us.” Prayers often step aside into praise and thanksgiving and these terms cannot be understood apart from one another. There are two ways of questioning God, one that is metaphysical and the other that poses questions from personal experience. God is a limit-concept, which is completely irreplaceable. Prayer is conversation with the Sender.
Some Notes on Helmut Gollwitzer’s Last Lecture in Berlin
(taken by Peter Krey, as an Interim Pastor of St. Ann’s Church in Dahlem-Berlin at the time)
1 Die Starcken soll der Herr zum Raube haben, which in German means that the strong are the ones whom God takes as spoils (Isaiah 53:12). In English it is translated, “and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.”
2 This is a very difficult German sentence: Vertrauen kann die Gestalt des Hadern mit Gotte Annehmen.
N.B. In my Luther reading, I found his taking one further step, which Gollwitzer leaves implicit: “Faith is a good work in which the other good works are grounded – it is mighty in itself, and emancipated,” i.e., It is a good work that God does in us and therefore it is mighty in itself, grounds all our good works, and is emancipated.