Friday, 14 May 2010

The Depressed Luther (Conclusion)

While Luther saw his Anfechtung as essential to spiritual growth he did not view it lightly. The Christian carer needs to view people’s struggles seriously and sensitively, while encouraging people to look to God’s promises and cry out to God in prayer. Then they may emerge from their struggles with deepened faith.

In dealing with people who are suffering from anxiety and depression we need to be conscious that there may be a variety of factors at work.

Osborn’s reflections on Luther’s ‘scruples’, while probably not giving enough attention to Luther’s theology, nevertheless remind us that if the reformer was alive today he may have received a medical diagnosis concerning his depression. Luther’s Anfechtung reoccurred after his theological breakthrough, and was not always directly associated with his own position before God—suggesting that at least part of his trouble lay in his emotional make-up.

This is not to ignore the theological dimensions of Luther’s struggles. We have seen that from childhood the reformer had a distorted image of God. The majority of Luther’s Anfechtung seems to have centred round the personal goodness of God. If someone is not convinced that God is merciful, and is willing to show mercy to them, this will be a source of anxiety. When it came to helping others suffering with similar struggles Luther majored on the application of Biblical truth. The preacher should be aware that there is a pastoral element to their preaching. The Christian should not forget the objective need for forgiveness from God, and the emotional release that comes through experiencing it. While we cannot answer all the ‘whys’ of people’s suffering Luther would direct our gaze to the cross of Christ, where the love of God is seen in its purest form.

Thus when the pastor encounters someone who is struggling with anxieties they ought to consider recommending a trip to a general practitioner as part of their care; and, in an ideal world, when a medical professional comes across someone with a religious dimension to their anxiety they would recommend a visit to a pastor.

The third factor that we observed, contributing to Luther’s Anfechtung, was circumstances. Luther’s emotional struggles were at times heightened by the erroneous pressures he faced. All those who are involved in pastoral care should take into account the external factors contributing to peoples feelings of stress. Dealing with these factors can contribute people being prevented from experiencing anxiety and depression.

1 comment:

Larry said...

Osborn misses Luther's point on anfectungen. They occur of necessity to continually make room for faith and hold allthe more to the promises of God. The devil means trials to destroy faith yet God uses the for the single purpose of driving one to trust that God has forgiven his sins. Anfechtung is not easy to translate into a single English term. But can be best understood by this statement: the believer hears that God is gracious and forgiving in the Gospel. But he experience's, feels and reasons that God is still wrathful not only not forgiving his sins but constantly reminding him of them.

Thus in the anfechtungen he experiences the hidden God, that God has turned his back on him (Moses seeing Gods backside, ie God appears to abandon one. Here we see the link to the Cross of Christ,ie the connection of our anfechtung with the cross of Christ) . Thus we turn to Christ for us (pro me) in the objective Word and sacraments back to where we know God is revealed to us for us.