This leads to a consideration of Luther’s doctrine of faith. Faith is for him receiving God, when He gives Himself to us. He distinguishes it completely from historical faith (fides historica), which acknowledges historical facts. It is for him the acceptance of the gift of God, the presence of the grace of God which grasps.
Luther has again and again emphasized the receptive character of faith – nihil facere sedtantum recipere – doing nothing, only receiving. These ideas are all concentrated in the acceptance of being accepted, namely in the forgiveness of sins, which produces a quiet consciousness, and which produces a spiritual vitality towards God and man. “Faith is a living and restless thing. The right; living faith can by no means be lazy.” So in other words the element of knowledge in faith is an existential element and therefore everything else follows from it. “Faith makes the person; person makes the works, not works the person.” Now that is something of which I would say that it is again confirmed by everything we know today in terms of depth psychology. It is the ultimate meaning of a life which makes a person. And a split personality is not a personality which doesn’t do good works. There are people who do many good works – and again I refer to the example we have in our minds and hearts (referring to the recent death of a classmate) – but where the ultimate center is lacking. And this ultimate center is what Luther calls faith: that makes a person; but faith of course not as accepting doctrines, even any Christian doctrine, but faith as accepting the power itself out of which we come and to which we go, however the doctrines may be through which we accept it.
Now you know, in my “Courage to Be,” I have called that absolute faith, a faith which can lose every concrete content but which still can exist as an absolute affirmation of life as life, of being as being. Therefore the only negative thing is what he calls disbelief, not being united with the power of being itself, with the Divine reality over against the forces of separation and compulsion. This is in correspondence with Luther’s concept of God, one of the strongest ideas of God in the whole history of human and Christian thought. It is not a God who is a being besides others, but it is a God whom we can have only through contrast.
What is hidden before God is visible before the world, and what is hidden before the world is visible before God. “Which are the virtues (i. e. powers of being) of God? Infirmity, passion, cross, persecution: these are the weapons of God.” “The power of man is emptied by the cross, but in the weakness of the cross the Divine power is present.” And from this he says, about the state of man: “Being man means non-being, becoming being. It means being in privation, in possibility, in action. It means always being in sin, in justification, in justice. It means always being a sinner, a penitent, a just one.” Now this is paradoxical and it makes clear what Luther means with God. God can be seen only through the law of contrast.
This is confirmed by his idea of God when he goes to ontological considerations, as he does in his writings on the sacrament. He denies everything which can make God finite, or a being besides others.