So lately I’ve been arguing that the Lutheran Law-Gospel distinction is a mistake from a phenomenological point of view because, like how writs of habeas corpus commanding the release of a prisoner to attend court can be good news, likewise God’s command to us to come to him or turn to him can be encouraging good news for prisoners who despair of the wrath of God and uncertain of God’s willingness or desire to receive them.
I would like to give another example of this by looking at an interesting passage in Proverbs 1:20-33 which depicts a personified Wisdom, usually identified with the divine Word, calling sinners to repentance with interesting twists in the narration. We begin with the block of 20-23:
Wisdom crieth without;
she uttereth her voice in the streets:
She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates:
in the city she uttereth her words, saying,
How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity?
and the scorners delight in their scorning,
and fools hate knowledge?
Turn you at my reproof:
behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you,
I will make known my words unto you.
Here Wisdom is depicted as crying out to sinners, reproofing them, and then commanding them to turn at her reproof. However we read in the next block from 24-28
Because I have called, and ye refused;
I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;
But ye have set at nought all my counsel,
and would none of my reproof:
I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when your fear cometh;
When your fear cometh as desolation,
and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind;
when distress and anguish cometh upon you.
Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer;
they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:
This passage is interesting because Wisdom is saying that not only will she mock their fear and laugh at their calamity, she will not answer them when they “call upon” her or “seek” her. This seems like a rather hard-hearted and malicious attitude to take, and seemingly somewhat inconsistent. Didn’t she just tell them to turn to her, how could she now reject those who precisely do so? However she explains the reasoning in the next block of verses from 29-32
For that they hated knowledge,
and did not choose the fear of the LORD:
They would none of my counsel:
they despised all my reproof.
Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way,
and be filled with their own devices.
For the turning away of the simple shall slay them,
and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.
The reason as such is clear: They turn to Wisdom, not out of obedience or faith in her counsel, her command, or her words, but simply out of despair. However harsh it may be to say this, but none may presume to approach God outside of his authorised modes, the subjective intensity of our despair or feelings are not passports nor entitlement into the divine courts, we enter only by the mere will and good graces of God and by the means and conditions set up him. They sought God outside of his revealed Word and specific command, and reproof, they shall find nothing and hear only the silence of God which no presumption nor despair of man can penetrate, and a fading Cheshire cat’s grin at their calamity. But fortunately this passage does not end here and we read in verse 33:
But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely,
and shall be quiet from fear of evil.
Only those who hearken, who *listen* to the voice of God, who responds to the divine command rather than just react to their own feelings, “shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.”
This is as clear a case of how the Law can be Gospel as can be. When surrounded by the disaster and calamity, we bang on the doors of the divine courts in despair, and we hear nothing but laughter within, however, how different the situation is when we hear from within “I command and *authorise* you to approach my presence, to turn away from the foolishness and sin which entangles, and permit you to share in my gifts.”
How is this law, command, authorisation not good news to the fearful and thereby Gospel?