The gift of struggle

Anfechtung. There is not an English equivalent for this German word. "It may be a trial sent by God to test man or an assault from the Devil to destroy man. It is all the doubt, turmoil, pang, tremor, panic, despair, desolation, and desperation which invade the spirit of man" (Bainton, 31).

Have you ever experienced Anfechtung? This is not your run of the mill struggle or your mild mannered sadness. This is a brutal onslaught that pulls you down to the depths. A ferocious attack that breaks you and does not leave you once you have been broken. Personally speaking I have never experienced a depression of this intensity; but I know people who have.

Someone who did experience this "Blitzkrieg of the soul" was a certain Martin Luther. We remember him today as the great and imperfect reformer who helped bring the church back to the truth of the Scripture. He was the man who defiantly nailed the 95 thesis to the church in Wittenberg, sparking the fires of the eventual blaze of the reformation. The same Martin Luther who declared with boldness at the diet of Diet of Worms, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God."

That same Martin Luther had continual episodes of this intense struggle throughout his life. He said that at times no "corner was not filled with the most bitter bitterness, horror, fear, dolor, and all these things seem eternal" (George, location 1264). Luther's extreme depression was fueled by the false religion of the day, that he could never be made fully right before a Holy God. God was too high, too hidden in light impenetrable for any mortal with even sufficient sins confessed and penance accomplished to enter. Thus Luther was driven to the depths where he doubted and even hated God.

Yet for all of the pain, I doubt that Martin Luther would be the man we remember if it was not for these struggles. How would he have been driven to search the Scriptures in the first place if he was not burdened by the weight of his sin? How could he have with passion proclaimed "Here I stand, I can do no other" if it were not for the years of wrestling and doubt? It seems that Luther's theology and passion was formed by his bouts of inner grappling; and instead of his turmoil conquering him, it molded him into that great reformer that we remember. Perhaps many of us who proclaim salvation through faith alone owe a big "thank you" to Luther's Anfechtung.

We view struggles, whether great or small, as curses. They beset, discourage, and knock us down. But I wonder if struggles, even of the intensity described above—could they be a gift? We live our lives through near sighted lenses of the present tense, blind to what was in the past and blind to what we are becoming. And we are never given the privilege of seeing what we will one day become: the final product. Could God be up to something bigger and beyond what we can see at this point in time--even using the struggles, the pains, the depressions—for His ultimate glory? It would not be the first time. 
Maybe you are wrestling. Maybe you are fighting God. Maybe you are in the depths of intense depression like Luther. Wherever you may be: Take Heart. For those in Christ Jesus, God is not finished with you. He will continue to refine with fire, even if that fire feels like hell. And who knows? Maybe when you get to the end you will be thankful for the gift of struggle.
"though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." -- 1 Peter 1:6-7

***

Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand; a Life of Martin Luther. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1950. Print.

George, Timothy. Theology of the Reformers. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013. Kindle Edition.


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