Thursday, January 14, 2010

Luther's "Agonizing Struggle"

I hope you're all doing well in the blogosphere. Sorry it's been so long since my last post. As I've said before, this whole having a baby thing is really a time and brain power suck. WHO KNEW!?! This said I'm just going to offer you some thoughts inspired by Martin Luther today.

The inspiration came from thinking about what Luther calls the "Agonizing Struggle."
This struggle, in whatever form it takes, is the situation where:
Everything disappears / and I see nothing but my nothingness and destruction," in which I myself become an enemy to myself and the entire world becomes my enemy; yes, even God himself causes agony for me, in that he confronts me as the one who breaks his Word and contradicts what he himself has said. (Bayer 20-21)
In other words, to use saying from my old professor Paul Zahl, the agonizing struggle is that "big hurt" which throws you upon the mercy of God or as Luther explains, “Teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God's word is” (Lulll 66).

This concept got me thinking that in my own life I’m always prone to think that God is only in those things that I find good, pleasant, and wonderful when in all actuality God is rather present in those things that hurt, kill, and destroy. Luther says it this way in his Heidelberg Disputation:
Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.
This is because our existence here on earth is always “simul iustus et peccat” (Justified and yet a sinner) and in those deep places where sin exists God’s presence will always lance that part away and as with any lancing it hurts. This is because we, in the words of Luther, are “Really sick, but hope and are beginning to get, or be made, well” (Mueller 114-115).

I believe this is what Jesus was getting at in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. He exclaims:
Matthew 5:3-6 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Why are Christians poor in spirit, those who mourn, meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? It is because through the agonizing struggle/big hurt of God confronting those areas (they are many and very deep rooted) that are not in accordance with his ways we are given to have a realistic view of ourselves and others. Eugene Peterson expresses this beautifully in his paraphrase of the first beatitude. He writes, “You’re blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” This illustrates the fact that it is only in being desperate that we have the kingdom of heaven, it is only in mourning that we are comforted, it is only in meekness that the earth is truly ours, and it is only because of the former things that we will ever hunger and thirst for righteousness. How does this all come about? It is through the agonizing struggle of us being confronted with God’s presence and his Word. As Oswald Bayer writes:
Agonizing struggle is the touchstone that shows the Word of God itself to be credible and mighty within such struggle and when opposing it. “For agonizing struggle along teaches one to take the Word of God into account.” (37)
I write this today as I’m mentally preparing to for a psychiatrist appointment in a half hour for the treatment of panic disorder/depression that I’ve been struggling with for almost a decade now. This has been my long agonizing struggle that has tormented me over the years. Many times I’ve prayed for healing, many times I’ve prayed for relief, but God continually says, “2 Corinthians 12:9 My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And this is true. My agonizing struggle is the only reason I stand here today. This said, what’s your agonizing struggle? What’s your big hurt? What’s the thing that has continually brought you to your knees? Whatever it is, big or small; know that is where God is most likely doing his greatest work!



Bayer, Oswald. “Martin Luther’s Theology: a contemporary interpretation”
Lull, Timothy. “Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings”
Luther, Martin. “Commentary on Romans” trans Theodore Mueller

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