Sunday, March 11, 2007

Anfechtungen, there's an impressive German word for you; not quite as impressive as Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung (speed limit), my all-time favorite German word, but fun to say nonetheless.

What does it mean? For those of us who live in Lutherland, it refers to the life trials and emotional pain that are part of the human experience; the nagging, stinging, aching consequences of human-beingness that may cause us to question God's goodness and love: Illness; depression; anxiety; the sting of our conscience when we do or say or think something hurtful and wrong; relational frictions; the damaging consequences of our own and other people's sin; our helplessness and outrage at injustice and pain around us; **** happening; the insidious little voice that whispers in our ears:

God doesn't really love everyone.
Where is God now?
If you were a better person you wouldn't feel this way.
If you were a better person this wouldn't have happened.
A good God wouldn't have let this happen.
If you were just more [insert virtue here], or less [insert vice here], God would love you more.
You aren't good enough.
You're hopeless.
God hates you.

As Luther pointed out, the Adversary, the Accuser, often works in the medium of piety, of religiosity, to nudge us into spiritual despair; our own thoughts, or the accusing, damning words and behaviors of "good Christians."

Anfechtungen, in Lutheran theology, are part and parcel of the Christian experience. They're with us always, like an arthritis that sometimes aches, sometimes stabs.

Today in his sermon my pastor, talking about today's Gospel lesson, noted that we have two ways to handle the manure that falls into our lives; we can either let ourselves be smothered in it, or we can allow the Gardener to dig it in around us -- to help us spread out our roots and grow in an outward direction, our own experience of hurt helping us be more sensitive and reponsive to the pain and need of others; to be what Henri Nouwen called "wounded healers."


Trish said...

I heard a really good sermon yesterday, too. A REALLY good sermon... Kind of interesting to me, because I only worship at that church when I'm "on call" from Saturday morning to Sunday morning, and considering this was only my 2nd time doing that... :) See ya.

Andy said...

It's interesting that even a Lutheran pastor can't resist taking the image of the Gardener spreading the manure and turning it into "ways to handle the manure" (i.e. what we can do). But there's obviously some difference made by our own attitude and actions.

Obviously, the Gardener is going to do what he's doing with the manure whether we like it or not. But the weakness (as it seem to me) in Lutheran theology (though not always in Lutheran praxis) is that it fails to account for, and in fact denies the relevance of, how we respond to the work of God in anything but a causal way. It may account for our lack of providing spiritual direction (for the same reason we don't coach baseballs on how to fly when they're hit).

On an unrealted note, I came across anfechtung yesterday in a class on a letter from the latest volume in Bonhoeffer's works. It was translated there as "moral problems" or something of the sort but the German word was parenthetically noted. The letter was written to Bonhoeffer's former seminarians who were fighting on the front lines in the German army. Apparently, they were worrying about their lack of time for prayer and meditation!

Reverend Dona Quixote said...

Hi LC.

Hmmm, we were unknowingly in a similar place Sunday.

I utilized a German word for my sermon: schadenfreud, the pleasure one takes in the misfortune of others, or, as I explained it Sunday, the pleasure one takes when others get what you think they deserve.

Jesus basically says, rather than enjoying/worrying about/trying to explain the misfortunes of others, our appropriate response is to recognize it could happen to us at any time and therefore to take opportunity to repent, to turn to God.

I appreciate your reflections always.

LutheranChik said...

Rev. D: Great minds! LOL (What actually got the ball rolling for me on this topic was a group of Lutherans arguing over the etymology of the word Anfechtung -- proof that if Lutherans can't find anything real to fight about, they'll make something up.)

Andy: And the irony is that Luther sermonized about good works all the time -- the importance of being "little Christs" for our neighbors. Somehow we've disconnected from his insights into living into our baptismal promise.

LutheranChik said...
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