Helmut Thielicke on the Hallowing of God’s Name

[48] My friends, doesn’t it strike you as it does me, that in the Lord’s Prayer there is not a single petition that asks God to make me a sanctified, devout, and stoutly believing man, not a single petition that asks him to help me make progress in ‘sanctification’?

In making this observation I am not venturing to say that we may not pray for these things. Nevertheless it is striking that a petition that relates to the growth of the inner man and spiritual progress is simply missing.

Expressed in other words, whereas we would think that the Prayer could say, and quite rightly say: “Lord, lead me to further sanctification of my life,” Jesus turns our attention away from ourselves, even from our pious selves, and concentrates it upon the Father. The prayer is not “May I be hallowed” but “thy name be hallowed.” What does he mean by this?

[49] Quite simply, he means to say that if I want to become a new man, I should not begin with myself, with my good intentions and my moral endeavors. This can only come to nothing, even though it is recommended by the philosophers, the moralists, and other honest people. …

[51] If Jesus does not teach us to pray, “Make me a consecrated, holy person,” but rather teaches us to say, “Hallowed be thy name,” what he is saying is this: “It doesn’t depend at all on your own exertions and your own inner progress; you can never set yourself up as your own goal. Everything depends on your being willing to honor God and let [52] him work in your life, simply to stand still and let him be the ‘holy one’ who will actually have first place in your life, above all men and all things. Then the other will come of itself. …

Again we say, the solution to the problem of our life (the problem of how we can become new men) lies not in ourselves but outside of ourselves, in the fellowship which we have or do not have with God.

from The Prayer that Spans the World

Hallowed Be Your Name

In Petition of the Self-Sanctification of God’s Name

Deploying theological categories as credible and capable resources for addressing any number of questions that vex our society and/or our subjectivity is an uncertain proposition. In the post-Christian West it’s taken for granted that religious discourse, if not yet altogether meaningless, is certainly in want of a raison d’être. So what is the theologian and pastor to do in times when talk of God, the church, and the gospel are heard as impotent to save? When the fear of the Lord and the obedience of faith constitute neither the beginning of wisdom nor the rule of virtue? When it seems religious discourse itself stands in need of, well, redemption?

When I rehearse questions like these to myself I admittedly feel caught between two lines of response, and I’m not yet sure how to correlate them. Both are on to something, but how to account for their respective contributions? This is my standing question. So without further ado:

SET 1

When words lose their meaning, it is not the words that are at fault, but the people using them.

  • from R. G. Rollefson Thinking with Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein: The Philosophical Theology of Paul L. Holmer (Pickwick, 2014), 67.

It is not that…words are mistaken, or that they are — in the glib modern sense — irrelevant, so that we need clearer and simpler ideas. Far from it. The problem lies in…speakers. There is not enough depth in us for [certain] words to emerge as credible; they have become external to us, tokens we use while forgetting what profound and frightening differences in the human world they actually refer to. …[T]he point of traditional doctrinal forms is…, we could say, to create a depth in us.

In the world as it is, the right to be heard speaking about God must be earned.

  • from Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology (Blackwells, 2000), 40.

SET 2


That prayer [hallowed be thy name] is not, we must note, first and foremost a prayer that the Church itself somehow establish the sanctity of God’s name. Quite the opposite: it is a prayer that God himself hallow his own name. … The prayer of the Church, its trustful cry that in this matter God will take up his own cause and demonstrate his holiness, is thus rooted in the “sanctifying of God’s name by God himself.”

  • from John Webster, Holiness (Eerdmans, 2003), 75-76.

A world enslaved to mistaken, idolatrous, and even murderous theological apprehensions seems to be too great a challenge for such a frail, divided, compromised community as the Church of Jesus Christ. And it is! That is why the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer! We disciples do not accept the hallowing of God’s name as a mission we can make ourselves able to accomplish. We beg for it as a gift we can receive in faith by grace. God’s reputation may be in tatters today among the nations and even among his own people, but God’s reputation is eternally secure among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that is what really matters.

  • from Telford Work, “The Reputation of God,” in Ain’t Too Proud to Beg: Living Through the Lord’s Prayer (Eerdmans, 2007), 45.

Ezekiel 36:16-38

Synthesis?

Insofar as my disjunction has set divine and human agency in contrastive terms, Webster and Work have to be right, as a matter of fundamental theological grammar, to accord what I’m calling the redemption of religious discourse to God’s agency. Quoting Barth, Webster is able to speak of “an act [of God] that cannot be ours” (76). This line would seem to leave Williams and Holmer’s thesis without any work left to do. But we know Webster and Work would not endorse an account of competitive, zero-sum agency between God and humanity. So, first, that does leave me wondering what could count as an action of God that’s unmediated by human action. What might Webster cite as an example? Second, I’m wondering whether Williams and Holmer’s claim could be reimported through a back door (so to speak) on the basis of some Thomist-style model of double agency. It seems to me axiomatic that the concrete lives of Christians contribute in some way to the credibility of their claims. Something about having to earn the right to be heard speaking about God (however that’s imagined) rings true. Yet how doesn’t that concession put the onus squarely back on Christians and once again eclipse God’s agency in just the way Webster censures?

In Closing

if the word ‘God’ (with a capital ‘G’) has today become so burdened with inappropriate use, why don’t we simply discard it, and speak in some other way about the holy mystery which the word misnames? After all, it is not on a three-letter word that our hearts, identities and hopes are set. The short answer, I suggest, is that the long, and complex, and conflictual history of humankind’s engagement in the educational process of learning non-idolatrously to worship, learning wholeheartedly and without reserve to give ourselves to the truth, and flourishing, and freedom, to which we have been called, is simply too bound up with the history of the uses and misuses of this little word. However difficult it is to use appropriately, there is no other word which similarly signals that the truth and destiny and healing of the world infinitely outstrip the world’s capacities.

  • from Nicholas Lash, Holiness, Speech and Silence (Ashgate, 2004), 20-21. Cf. Theology on the Way to Emmaus, 55.

The body of Christ is the instrument God has chosen to rescue his reputation in the world.

  • from Telford Work, “The Reputation of God,” in Ain’t Too Proud to Beg: Living Through the Lord’s Prayer (Eerdmans, 2007), 45. In context, by “body of Christ” Telford is primarily referring to the Church, but given the drift of his essay it might be permissible to leave it ambiguous (either Church or Christ), or perhaps even take it in a conjunctive totus christus sense.

T. F. Torrance on Subjective Justification

[232-3] It is illuminating to recognize that subjective Justification, as well as objective Justification, has already taken place in Jesus Christ. Not only was the great divine act of righteousness fulfilled in the flesh of Jesus, in His Life and Death, but throughout His Life and Death Jesus stood in our place as our Substitute and Representative who appropriated the divine Act of saving Righteousness for us. He responded to it, yielded to it, accepted it and actively made it His own, for what He was and did in His human nature was not for His own sake but for our sakes. That is true of all that He did. He was the Word of God brought to bear upon man, but He was also man hearing that Word, answering it, trusting it, living by it—by faith. He was the great Believer—vicariously believing in our place and in our name. He was not only the Will of God enacted in our flesh, but He was the will of man united to that divine Will. In becoming one with us He laid hold upon our wayward human will, made it His very own, and bent it back into obedience to, and in oneness with, the holy Will of God. Likewise in Justification, Jesus Christ was not only the embodiment of God’s justifying act but the embodiment of our human appropriation of it. In that unity of the divine and the human, Justification was fulfilled in Christ from both sides, from the side of the justifying God and from the side of justified man—’He was justified in the Spirit’, as St. Paul put it. Justification as objective act of the redeeming God and Justification as subjective actualization of it in our estranged human existence have once and for all taken place—in Jesus.

[235-6] Jesus Christ was not only the fulfillment and embodiment of God’s righteous and holy Act…, but also the embodiment of our act of faith and trust and obedience toward God, He stood in our place, taking our cause upon Him, also as Believer, as the Obedient One who was Himself justified before God as His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased. He offered to God a perfect confidence and trust, a perfect faith and response which we are unable to offer, and He appropriated all God’s blessings which we are unable to appropriate. Through union with Him we share in His faith, in His obedience, in His trust and His appropriation of the Father’s blessing; we share in His justification before God. Therefore when we are justified by faith, this does not mean that it is our faith that justifies us, far from it—it is the faith of Christ alone that justifies us, but we in faith flee from our own acts even of repentance, confession, trust and response, and take refuge in the obedience and faithfulness of Christ—’Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.’ That is what it means to be justified by faith.

from “Justification: Its Radical Nature and Place in Reformed Doctrine and Life,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 13 no 3 (1960).