Trusting in Less than Nothingness

Pentecost 20 Thursday

Psalm 62:9

“Yet men are vanity; the people are false; they are lighter than vanity on the scale.”

You have heard what God is. Now hear in contrast what men are. He says that men are nothing. If you rely on them, know that you rely on complete nothingness that will certainly fail you. Indeed, says he, if you had a scale and put men on the one side and nothingness on the other, men would be lighter than nothingness. Such a Hebrew way of speaking we can translate as: “Men are less than nothing.” What they call vanity we call nothingness, as Solomon says, Ecclesiastes 1:2: “Everything is vanity and complete vanity,” that is, human trumpery is nothing, complete nothingness. Here you ask: “How can it be that man is nothing since he is God’s creature?” Answer: David does not talk about the creature in and by itself, but about the use of the creature. That is to say, man is, to be sure, a good thing, but we do not use him rightly. A prince, king, emperor is also a good thing, but we do not use them rightly. How so? By trusting and building on them. When you use them in this way, they are nothingness. Why? Because they are uncertain both in their life and in their heart. Sand and water are also good things; however, if I wanted to build a house on them, they would be nothingness, even less than nothingness. Yet when I use water by drinking it or by washing myself, it is a precious, useful thing. For it is created for this purpose; it is its use. Likewise prince, king, emperor–they are created to keep the peace in the land, etc.; in that use they are God’s creatures and a good thing. Yet that I should rely on them is nothingness. He does not say: “Do not obey princes,” but: “Do not trust in princes,” Psalm 146:3. Trust belongs to God alone. I should not sell dirt pretending it is gold. Dirt has its use, but compared to God, it is nothingness. For you see that this psalm speaks much of faith, trust, confidence, relying–all these titles are too exalted for princes. Although the world does not do anything but trusting in princes and not trusting in God; that is to say, the world is nothingness and trusts in nothingness. Yet why are men lighter or less than nothingness? What can be less than nothingness? Answer: That which is nothingness does not deceive anyone. But those who trust in that which is nothingness are injured twice: first, they do not find anything; second, they lose what they expend on nothingness. For he who simply has nothing has simple nothingness and does not expend anything on it. Yet he who trusts in a man, in addition to not finding anything, also loses what he expended on doing so; in this way, his hope and expense are destroyed on account of the nothingness in which he hopes. This is why it is said rightly that man is less than nothing. For the world does not forsake its trusting in men; therefore, it also trusts vainly in nothingness. What great praise of all of us who are called men: We are less than nothing! This is how mightily one man can help another man.

St. Louis ed., 5:32-33.

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