As a theologian and the president of Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, I’m delighted to introduce the 2024 edition of Living Lutheran’s long-running column “Deeper understandings” on behalf of the ELCA’s seminaries.

My personal subtitle for the series is “Theology That Matters for Life: For Real Life, for Your Life.” For life in a messy, complicated world, lived in community among messy, complicated and—let’s go ahead and name it—frustrating people. People I disagree with, people I argue with, people with whom I do not see eye-to-eye on many important issues.

My point is that, in the messy reality that life simply is, the fact that you are a Lutheran Christian matters, and can and should make a constructive difference in how you engage life, both broadly and specifically, in the way you understand and interpret your place in both your family and the universe. I hope you experience your faith as a gift to you for navigating the challenges of life.

So, as we begin 2024 together, I invite you to reflect on the following questions: How do you want to show up and be present in the world this year, with your family, with your friends, in your workplace and in your Christian community? More to the point, how might your Lutheran faith—and our Lutheran theology—shape your life and support you on the path the Holy Spirit is calling you to follow in 2024?

Reflecting on these questions myself, and firmly keeping our central Lutheran convictions in view, I have distilled my answer down to four words, which I put before you to shape your journey with God in 2024 or perhaps as a spark for you to think about your own words that speak to your faith in this season of life.


Joy is not happiness but a deep well of confidence, peace and encouragement that comes from outside us and exists independently of whatever life throws at us. Our joy as Christians is born of the fact that the most important aspect of our identity is our existence as God’s beloved children, created good and infinitely beautiful, and treasured beyond price. In Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, we are forgiven, redeemed and sanctified. No one can take that away from us; nothing can separate us from God’s love; no tragedy is greater than God’s abiding strength. You, beloved, are beautifully and wondrously made, and your existence makes the whole world more beautiful.


Our call to live in love comes from how we understand the core identity of our neighbor, who, no surprise, is also God’s beloved child, created good and infinitely beautiful, and treasured beyond price—forgiven, redeemed and sanctified. To be clear, this doesn’t mean we have to like our neighbor, but we are called to support their flourishing, stand up for them when they are attacked and, in all situations, interpret their actions and words in the most favorable light. Christians lead with love, not hate; mercy, not suspicion; grace, not criticism. God’s love flows into the world in and through us, with a power that overturns injustice, inaugurating peace in our families, our neighborhoods, our countries and the world.

How might your Lutheran faith—and our Lutheran theology—shape your life and support you on the path the Holy Spirit is calling you to follow in 2024?


The world is an amazing, miraculous place, even in its ugliness, barrenness and desiccation. This is because the world is holy ground, the place where we meet God. Our universe—and every being in it—is made up of the same stuff as Jesus Christ’s own physical body. The world is God’s treasured creation—good, good and very good. With eyes and hearts open to wonder, we see God everywhere, showing up in dramatic, drink-it-in sunsets and blink-and-you’ll-miss it flashes of kingfishers in flight. Through eyes of faith, the whole world becomes a breathtaking spectacle of God’s awe-inspiring design and presence.


Finally, Christians are invited into lives of gratitude—gratitude to the One who holds us all tenderly in hand, breathing life into our lungs and circulating blood through our hearts. Our loving, lavish God is the source of all good gifts, the author of our salvation, the creator of new life in Christ and new beginnings. Without God we fall; with God we stand on firm ground, even when life seems to be crumbling around us. “Thank you,” we say, for all that is, has been and is yet to be.


No, life isn’t perfect. Sometimes, in fact, it is really hard. There is pain, suffering, cruelty and violence, not to mention disappointment, grief and loss. Yet God is right there amid it all—still working, still loving, still creating. With the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can do the same—in joy, with love, through wonder and grounded in gratitude.

I hope you will read “Deeper understandings” every month and let the different authors’ wisdom and encouragement inspire you in 2024. (To make sure the column shows up in your inbox, visit and sign up for the free email digest “LL Stories.” You can opt to get the digest weekly, biweekly or monthly, and you can select the categories that interest you. “Deeper understandings” comes under the “Voices of faith” category, so make sure you select that one when signing up!)

It matters that you are a Lutheran Christian. Your faith is the center of your life—your anchor, your inspiration, your North Star. May 2024 be a year for you of deepening faith, deepened awareness of the presence of God in and around you, and, of course, deeper understandings.

Kristin Johnston Largen
Kristin Johnston Largen is the president of Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. She is an ordained pastor in the ELCA, and received her Ph.D. in Comparative Theology from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.

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