We had an uneventful weekend. Of course, my Facebook friends who pay attention here know that I fixed the toilet over the weekend. Those kinds of small household chores scare the daylights out of me.
Speaking of “fear”, I fully expect that we’ll hear from the doctor this week to say that they’ve selected a donor (from among the three 10/10 matches we’ve found) and there is a schedule for the transplant. Almost any way you put it, it looks now like we’ll be tied up with hospitals for Christmas. (Unless they decide to hold off the transplant until after Christmas, but I can’t see them doing that.) If they do select a donor this week, our 3-6 week “window” falls right in December.
Beth had a restful weekend. Going to church has become her big event for the week. Getting up and showering, then going to Sunday School and the worship service is a major effort. But she loves the church, she loves the people there, and she’s even made some good friends. But then she has to come home and take a long nap.
The concept of “the righteousness of God” was at the heart and soul of the Reformation. Not only, “how is God righteous?” but “how can we, sinners, be righteous before a perfectly holy God?” That’s the question Martin Luther wrestled with. It’s the question that was at the heart and soul of the Reformation, and it’s the subject I discuss in my latest post:
Aside from the four legacies given here, I might add a fifth, and that is, “our society will feel the need to allow women to serve in the armed forces, and thus come home with deadly illnesses that may very well cut short their lives with their children.”
What follows here is a continuation of a message from the Theology of the Cross series, The Christian’s Most Precious Treasure. That article provides more background on the opus alienum and opus proprium of God, which are two “perspectives” on why God does the things he does, and why they don’t seem quite “God-like” to us.
God humiliates man, in order that he may justify him; he makes man a sinner, in order that he may make him righteous – and both aspects of this matter are increasingly seen by Luther as works of God. Although Luther initially appears to have believed that man humbled himself, there are clear indications in the later stages of [Luther’s 1513-1515 lectures on the Psalms] that he is moving towards a more theocentric understanding of the various aspects of justification. God induces in man a state of total humiliation – a term which Luther prefers to ‘humility’, on account of the latter’s associations with the monastic virtue of humility – and then he accepts this as the righteousness which he demands of man if he is to be justified. Once Luther has grasped the fact that it is God who takes the initiative in Justification, and that he must be regarded as active rather than passive at every stage of the process, he is increasingly obliged to recognize the problems which are raised by this assertion. It is not man who humbles himself – it is God who humbles him. Even in the earlier stages of [Luther’s 1513-1515 lectures on the Psalms], where Luther allows man a greater role in his own justification, God is still seen as instigating man’s humiliation, even if man himself must cooperate with God if this humiliation is to be properly effected.
How does God humiliate man? Through the experience of the wrath of God, the threat of hell and eternal damnation, through Anfechtung and suffering. It is through experiencing the wrath of God that man is humbled, and forced to concede that he cannot, by himself, stand in the presence of God – and thus he turns to God in his helplessness and hopelessness, and by doing so, is justified. Paradoxically, it is thus through God’s wrath that his mercy is able to operate, in that man would not seek that mercy unless he knew how much he needed it. It is considerations such as this which lead Luther to distinguish two aspects of the work of God in justification. Even at the earliest stages of [Luther’s 1513-1515 lectures on the Psalms], Luther may be found to employ the concepts of the opus alienum [“the work alien to God”] and opus proprium [“the proper work of God”] to deal with this paradox…. While the impenitent taste nothing but the severity of the wrath of God, the penitent recognize the merciful intention which lies behind it, in that they discern that it is intended to move them to repentance, humility and faith, and thus to receive the grace of God. God, having ordained that he will bestow grace upon the sole precondition of humility is obliged to stand by his primordial decision – and thus, if man is to receive grace, he must meet this condition. The intent underlying the opus alienum Dei is to enable man to fulfil this precondition, and thus to receive the grace of the merciful God who is hidden in his strange work. As we showed on the basis of our analysis of the soteriology of [Luther’s 1513-1515 lectures on the Psalms] in the previous chapter, Luther appears to interpret fides Christi as sibi iniustus esse ita coram Deo humilis [“unjust to him to be humble before God”], where fides Christi is the righteousness which God requires of man if he is to be justified.
If man is to recognize his own unrighteousness, and thus be moved to humility he must first be forced to concede his own utter unworthiness, and the futility of his situation, if left to his own devices. The merciful intention of the opus alienum thus becomes clear, although this may only be recognisable to faith…. The Word of God, by passing its severe judgement upon man, makes him a sinner, and thus executes the opus alienum – but in that this moves man to cry out to God for mercy and grace (which are immediately forthcoming!), it indirectly executes the opus proprium.
It is of considerable significance that Luther later illustrates the concepts of the opus alienum and opus proprium in the Heidelberg disputation with specific reference to the justification of the sinner: ‘thus an action which is alien to God’s nature results in an action which belongs to his very nature: God makes a person a sinner, in order to make him righteous.’ The fundamental insight, recognized by faith alone, is that God’s wrath is his penultimate, and not his final, word.
Bethany gets her blood tested at least twice a week, and yesterday she had another blood test. The doctor from the Lab called to tell us that the lab tests she had yesterday were more stable than the tests she had done in the hospital.
I don’t have access to yesterday’s numbers, but the last four columns in the chart below were all taken during her hospital stay last week. (Click on the chart for a bigger view, and click your “back” button to return to this article.)
The numbers in red represent “critical lows”. She’s down there in all three counts: hemoglobin, white blood cells, and platelets. It’s good that she’s “stabilized” from this. There’s another good thing: Her LDH level is down to 340. As recently as September, her LDH level was 621. As one nurse told us, “That’s the disease process”.
All my life I went to Mass, trying to honor Christ, thinking that I could do some good for him. But I never, ever got what I’m getting from this church. It warms me from my toes to the top of my head. I hope we get to go really, really far with it.
On top of everything else that they’re doing, [and they’re doing A LOT, and they have asked me not to blab about it], the church has a meals ministry, and during the time when Beth is in the hospital, and for that month afterward when we’ll be making daily trips to West Penn’s Short Stay Unit, they’ve promised to deliver meals to our home. The way they’ll do this is to prepare frozen meals that we can simply microwave as we need them. Since we only have the freezer that’s part of our refrigerator, and since they intend to send a lot of food our way, which we couldn’t store, they brought in this freezer, to give us some place to keep the food that they’ll deliver.
Beth qualifies for health care benefits through the VA, but having this illness rated as a “service-related” illness would have ramifications in case Beth does not survive this procedure (according to her doctor, she has “less than a 50 percent chance of recovery” because of immediate and longer-term effects, though this is “the only curative option” for the type of leukemia that she has), in the form of disability benefits now, and survivor benefits for the kids and me.
We have a scheduled intake appointment in a few weeks with the VA. Beth is already receiving very good care for this illness through my employer’s health care benefits. We are very near to the point at which we can select a donor for a potential bone marrow transplant procedure, which “the only curative option” for her.
Last week, she spent most of the week in the hospital, receiving IV antibiotics treatments for infections related to her impaired immunities. All of her blood levels – hemoglobin, white blood cells, and platelets, are at low and critically low levels from Vidaza treatments she is receiving. So far, three individuals have qualified as stem cell donors. We’re hoping to select a donor this week and establish a schedule for a transplant.
Those of you who read this blog to find out news about Beth may have noticed that I also write about theology and church history, and the things I write are distinctively not flattering to Roman Catholicism. I want to assure those of you who are devout Roman Catholics that I do not intend to question your sincerity or your devotion to Christ at all. Those are between you and Him.
What I do intend to question is the legitimacy of the whole “Roman” component of Roman Catholicism: the church hierarchy, the very presupposition that the “universal” church was destined to be based in Rome. From that presupposition flows everything else. But those very presuppositions need to be challenged.
As I was growing up, I was the geekiest, nerdliest little “good Catholic” boy that you can imagine. My mom has a photograph of me in a suit, my hair combed back in a wave, my new missal in my hands and my eyes clad with a 1967 version of “coke-bottle” glasses ready to dive into that missal.
But as I grew older, I became exposed to conservative Protestant understandings of Christianity, and as I read through the New Testament, a kind of cognitive dissonance was unleashed in my heart that it has taken decades to sort through: How could an institution as old and as seemingly authoritative be so different from the vision of Christ and Christianity that’s given in the New Testament?
There are two aspects to Luther’s discovery of ‘the righteousness of God’. The first relates to the nature of this righteousness: Luther discovered a ‘wonderful new definition of righteousness’ which stood in diametrical opposition to human understandings of iustitia. The second relates to the mode by which this righteousness comes to the individual: man cannot perform good works which are capable of earning justification on a quid pro quo basis, but he can totally abase himself, and cry out to God for grace.
This is one of those McGrath statements that has been picked out of his various works and used by Roman Catholics with some glee – recently as David Anders has McGrath lamenting “The Protestant understanding of the nature of justification thus represents a theological novum.” It is a novum because, after Augustine got it wrong, Luther was the first one to get it right. The “infallible” Roman church had gotten it wrong for a thousand years and counting.