Tuesday, November 18, 2008


For Martin Luther despair, or the word "he...coined...for the black periods he experienced so often...his Anfechtungen" (p. 55) seemed to be a lifelong companion. Initially it was in regard to not finding any sense of peace with God even though he was quite religious and conscientious. But when he discovered (or in his mind, recovered) the truth that "the righteousness of God" in Romans is a gift from God received by faith, and not God's punishment of sinners, this started a revolution which goes on to this day.

But Luther's despair did not end. In fact he came to believe that only struggle, suffering and the cross, along with study of God's word, Scripture, makes one a true theologian and Christian. Satan, out to destroy the faith of Christians, in Luther's view becomes God's tool in God's ongoing work of grace in Christ in believer's lives. Not that one buys Satan's lies, but counters them with the truth of God in Christ. And when one is brought to the point of despair, one learns to no longer trust in themselves, but in God and in his word of promise in Christ.

Of course no one wants to live in defeat. Our victory however is never by our own efforts or resources, but only by grace through faith in God through Jesus Christ. I believe God lets us experience despair both as individual believers, and even together at times to keep us looking to him. We know in words something important of what God is doing in making us into the image of his Son. But just what that really means and what we need to get there is ever beyond us. God is dealing with sin in our lives, and also with our tendency to want to think we've arrived at a good place in our lives, when in reality God knows we need to keep growing.

Despair for me is both good and bad. It's bad if I give up and give in to something less than God's best or revealed will in Jesus. It's good though, when it awakens me again to my sense of ongoing need in God and reception of God's ongoing grace to me in Jesus, by the Spirit.

It's never a good thing to yield to temptation, though we must not forget God's ongoing provision in Jesus for our forgiveness and cleansing. When we are sorely tempted or struggling with temptation and sin, then we can be driven to recognize and acknowledge our great ongoing need for God. This hits me at times in big ways, and often just in little ways, and it does so most often in community. In other words this work of God in my life is most often worked out in community especially with other Christians, whether at home with my wife, at work where I'm with alot of other Christians or at church with the fellowship of believers there (or even in the blog world with Christians).

I've hardly touched on this, though it has been a factor in my own life. What would you like to add to this from your own life or thoughts?

(After reading from The Consolations of Theology, edited by Brian S. Rosner, the chapter, "Luther on Despair," by Mark D. Thompson.)


lorenzothellama said...

St John of the Cross referred to it as 'the dark night of the soul'. I think a lot of us have been there from time to time.

Anonymous said...

A praise of David.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,for you are with me; your rod and your staff,they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Anonymous said...

I find that despair more often leads me to a sense of hopelessness than it does to an end to self. I have to be careful not to get too close to despair without holding the hand of Jesus, or it takes weeks to pull myself out.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes. Such times can be helpful in helping us really seek God, or draw near to God through Christ. Those dark times of despair can be good if they help us find the Lord as our Salvation and in a new way in our lives. For me that's been the case.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen, Nancy. A good psalm for every day and for those in despair.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, Luther's take and experience in it does seem different to me as well. I just can't live in the kind of despair that seems was so much a part of his life, for long. Some depths are indeed hard to get out of. We need every day to know something of the joy of the Lord, which is our strength. But easier said than done when we're going through a prolonged trial. Am praying for you, Charity.

Litl-Luther said...

Good article!

Ted M. Gossard said...

I figured you'd be especially interested in this posting since it had to do with Luther. I like the 2004 (I believe it is) film, I think entitled, "Luther," which was done in Germany.

Thanks. And a good book as well as good chapter from the book.