Surely everyone is but a breath. Psalm 38
Martin Luther understood this sentiment well, so well, in fact, he labeled the spiritual struggles he endured Anfechtungen. These intense spiritual attacks caused him great “doubt, turmoil, pang, tremor, panic, despair, desolation, and desperation” (Roland Bainton). Physically he dealt with insomnia and constipation.
His confession is moving. “I was myself more than driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created,” he writes, “Love God? I hated him.” His words are clear. Love God? No. Hatred was a more apt term.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve found yourself broken, angry, abandoned, and alone, desperate for peace or at least a good night’s sleep. Maybe you are in despair, wondering if there is any hope for you.
Luther’s solace, of course, would not come in the efforts he exerted as a monk but in reflection on the Holy Scriptures. Sent to teach theology in Wittenberg, he would begin to engage books like the Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews that would offer him the word of hope he needed.
In the Psalms he would happen upon those words Jesus quoted while on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He realized here that he was not alone in his struggles, that even Jesus knew Anfechtungen. In Hebrews he would read how all is “laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (4:13). And yet he would see that such damning news gives way to good news, reading, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (4:15-16).
In short, Luther came to see what we all need to see. Our best hope for this life and the life to come is not found within our natural selves and that all we really can do, and need to do, is entrust ourselves completely to our Maker. All we can do and all we need to do is live by faith (Romans 1:17; Habakkuk 2:4). That faith, of course, makes all the difference while in a world in which we are persevering and waiting for peace.