The Mask of God

In his reflections on the 147th Psalm Martin Luther wrote, "Our works are God's masks, behind which the divine remains hidden, although the Lord does all things."  Such words challenge our common ways of thinking. It certainly challenges the ways of my upbringing.

I was raised in the highlands of North Carolina where the mountaineer spirit reigns. A key aspect of this spirit is the notion that people should be self-sustaining, vigilant, and independent.  The arch type of the mountaineer spirit was ever present in Boone, my hometown, since the town was named after the rugged frontiersman, Daniel Boone.  To be a real mountaineer meant you had to be able to survive on your own skills, motivation and efforts.  For in the forested mountains, survival required you to work. It didn't matter your age, gender or physical condition. All people were expected to do something, to be productive, to work. Those that did nothing, got nothing. You earned your keep.

I suppose we learned this way from the original mountaineers like Daniel Boone who did not have other people to turn to when they needed help or struggled to survive. They had to depend upon their tenacity, will to live and harnessed grit to get through. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson at Walden pond, they learned from experience that self-reliance was the only way of survival. No exceptions. No wining.

These days, such self-reliant individualism has become a popular way of life in America, the influence of our frontier ancestors, I suppose. This way teaches that respectable people are self-made, the product of hard work, personal sacrifices and grit. As a descendant of working class Scot-Irish, English and German mountain people, I still relate powerfully to this way. But I recognize in the words of Luther a caution and a corrective to the overstatement of this perspective.

According to Luther's comment, all of our works, our efforts, our accomplishments and even our survival, though dependent upon us doing something, are rooted in something hidden, namely the presence of God who accomplishes all things through us. Without going into a long treatise on how our bodies, resources, and air are sourced in God, suffice it to say that the Lord does all things through our bodies, motivation and efforts to keep us alive and thriving.  We survive because we work, but our work is a mask of God.

Such awareness reminds us that we can do nothing apart from the hidden work of God. This is even true for atheists who deny the existence of God. And so our work, necessary for survival, is not something we boast or complain about, for it is a gift to which all the glory belongs to God.


Pastor Frank

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1 Comment

Heather Lussier - September 6th, 2022 at 6:48am

I appreciate this reminder that I need to always temper self-reliance with God-reliance.