Scripture gives us frequent opportunity to reflect upon the effective power of God’s Word: that is, that God’s every word and utterance really do go into fulfillment. As the prophet Isaiah records, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Is. 40:8) This is, of course, a thought that is worthy of lengthy meditation. Luther, in his Lectures on Genesis, often meditated on the fact that God’s Word creates and causes to happen that which God has spoken. When it comes to creation, then, the wisdom and power of God’s creative speaking is made manifest. During the day as the sun comes out, like a strong man running its course, or at night when you see the gentle light of the moon and the stars ticking through the night-sky with their clockwork precision (cf. Ps. 19:1-5), you are seeing the continued outworking of God’s speech from that fourth day of creation (Gn. 1:14-19). These are all there because God has spoken. It is no accident.
In fact, if we look around us, there is no limit to the witness creation gives about the manifest power of God’s Word. By God’s Word, the seas are forced to obey their limits. Indeed, God has spoken to the seas “This far you may come, but no farther, and here your proud waves must stop!” (Job 38:11) This they must respect. In the same way, the plants and animals of creation tirelessly produce seeds, fruit, and offspring year after year after year. This is also by the power of God’s Word and not by some blind force of nature. (Gen. 1:11-13, 20-28)
Nevertheless, God has not only uttered creative words. He has spoken other effective, powerful words as well. And, just as much as we bear witness to His words of creation still today, we also witness the dramatic power of His many other utterances. As we begin Lent—in fact, the Old Testament Lesson for the first Sunday in Lent—we stumble upon more powerful words of God which explain other aspects of that which we experience in this world. Following the temptation and fall in paradise, God spoke a different kind of word. No longer was it merely a creative, life-giving word. Now, the Lord spoke words of curse and judgment—words that are still equally strong and powerful just as every word of creation. There is indeed still sorrow and difficulty in bringing forth life. There is still conflict between the sexes within marriage. There are still difficulties in the world of work. And, finally, we—you and me alike—are still made of dust and on our way back to dust. This happens because God has spoken it over our forefather, Adam, in whose sinful likeness we have been born. “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Gn. 3:19)
This is, of course, a dreadful truth—one which didn’t escape Martin Luther’s notice as he commented on the beautiful and haunting psalm of Moses, Psalm 90. Indeed, a careful reading of Psalm 90:3-12 should fill each of us with a certain dread. It is not cancer we are up against at the end of the day. It is not poor diet, heart disease, the corona virus, or generally failing health. What actually turns our lives back towards the dust from which we emerged is nothing other than God’s just judgment over us and over our sin. Thus, creation and life, death and judgment are bound up in God’s all-powerful word. Luther notes:
In Genesis God says: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Here Moses prays to Him: “Thou makest the children of men return.” There God says: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). Here Moses says to Him: “Thou causest men to die.” (Ps. 90:3) In one brief statement God thus at the same time establishes and devours the whole human race. Some are turned to dust and perish; others are born into similar sorrows. (LW 13:98)
Yet, although we can properly say that God’s word and judgment are the effective cause of our death, we dare not forget that it is His just and righteous verdict that has condemned not only the sin of Adam and Eve, but also of each and every one of us. God’s Word has declared that “the soul that sins shall die” (Ez. 4:4) and our Lord’s apostle confirms this verdict in teaching us that “the wages of sin is death.” (Rm 6:23a) Thus, in the face of this unstoppable, inalterable word of God, we dare not flee to science and medicine in endless efforts to evade this judgment; neither can we flee to technology. Even if one should back up the mind and memory on an external computing device in an attempt to usurp God’s verdict, this, too, would fail. Our words, our intellects, our hopes, our efforts are nothing before God’s word which does indeed stand forever.
If this would be the end of God’s speaking, then we should indeed despair. Moses’ words regarding the shortness of this life would be nothing other than a reminder of the countdown to our temporal end and eternal punishment. “For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; We finish our years like a sigh. The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knows the power of your anger? For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.” (Ps. 90:9-11) Furthermore, because the effective power of our end is God’s Word, we would be helpless—unless, that is, God should speak a further word to us.
Hebrews 1:1-2 reminds us: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.” In other words, God’s word of judgment, both following the fall and as reaffirmed through Moses and throughout Scripture, is not the final word. It is a divine and powerful word, but it is also a word to which God Himself has spoken a further word—a life-giving Word, full of grace and truth. Here we must fall on our knees and thank God. For, even as His word of creation and judgment are unstoppable, He has given us a further Word that also stands fast and cannot be shaken.
Jesus—the very Word made flesh—is Himself this Word of God who also repeatedly showed His own speaking to be divine. He Himself stilled the waters with His word. He healed and restored life and health with His word. He drove out demons with His word. He even forgave sins with His own speaking. Indeed, He placed His own words alongside the Torah and the rest of Old Testament revelation when He declared that His words would by no means pass away. (Mt. 24:35)
Even more, the Son of God Himself speaks further words beyond God’s wrath and judgment over our sin. He teaches us that He Himself came to give His life as a ransom for many. (Mk. 10:45) He came to take the place and pay the price of us who were bound up in captivity to sin and death. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (Jn. 10:11) This word is true, fast, and unmovable in the same way that each and every other word of God must stand firm. Elsewhere, Jesus teaches us that “he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (Jn. 5:24) Indeed, through faith alone in the Lord Jesus, judgment has been turned away from us. Death, though it awaits us, is not the final word over our sin. Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus will be saved. And thus death itself is also limited by our Lord’s speaking. After all, our Lord Jesus declares: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (Jn. 11:25-26)
Originally written in Norwegian for Gratia (Feb 2020), publication of The Evangelical Lutheran Confessional Church (ELBK) in Norway and Sweden.