Anfechtungen is the German word Martin Luther used to describe his depression and anxiety. This condition famously beset Luther and plagued him with dogged determination, causing him to question everything, including his own salvation. This struggle with darkness and hopelessness would eventually yield to the everlasting glory of God. It would spring forth, by God’s loving hand, the Reformation for which Luther is famous.
But wrestle with this foe Luther did. It came and went throughout his life. It is with this aspect of the lives of great men with which we can most aptly empathize–their sufferings.
We all walk through our own seasons of Anfechtungen. Each experiences the dark night of the soul at some point. For many the darkness doesn’t lift with the rising sun.
Several years ago, I fought my battle with a dry and weary soul bereft of the feeling of God’s nearness and love. I felt abandoned and without hope in this world. The words of Scripture were dry to my ears, and I felt my prayers to be the same before the Lord.
This fog would not lift for many months. The struggle bore down upon me and forced me to question everything I believe. There were many nights I would lay in bed with this heavy weight of anxiousness pushing the very breath from my lungs. It was a nightmare of an experience. One I dare not wish upon any other.
Others do experience this hellish struggle, or at the very least something closely related. Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson are in the news as a result of their own Anfechtungen of sorts. These well-known men publicly announced their struggles to hold onto their faith in Christianity. While they give slightly varying reasons for their departures, their stories provide a sobering reminder for the faithful.
Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.
I read this note on September 18th within a collection of his writings entitled A Year with C. S. Lewis. Each day provides you a snippet of one of this seminal works as a type of devotional reading. How timely still are Lewis’ words?
They remind us of the one thing we terribly need by way of armament in this constant battle: truth. Feelings flutter and change. Truth stands immovable and eternal. If something is true today, it will most certainly remain true tomorrow regardless of how we feel about it. We may find something both true and detestable, these are not contradictory things. What we cannot however find, is that thing that is unequivocally true today, and then false at some later date. Truths in this realm stand firm. It is we who move to and fro as the winds of culture, or should I say imaginations of men, blow.
Lewis’ words also provide a call to arms. A call to engage the mind in the fight and build habits designed to reinforce and remind you of truth.
Consequently, one must train the habit of Faith. The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?
Withstanding the onslaught of doubt takes firm resistance. It requires keeping truth before your mind’s eye. It requires reminding yourself of what you believe, and why. This last part is deeply important.
Mere hope and memorized tropes will not do the trick. Instead, you must know exactly why you believe something, especially when it concerns the most important aspect of life. Knowing why you believe something means understanding the evidence from which your conclusions flow. This is where apologetics enters the fray.
Making sense of the evidence is apologetic’s primary concern. It is a discipline every believer in Christ must acquaint themselves with. Apologetics gives the believer a greater and deeper confidence. A confidence that in time forges the believer’s spine into one of steal.
Most think of apologetics only in terms of defending against external challengers, namely answering critics. While apologetics are needed to provide a reason for the hope we have, they are also your strongest weapon against the doubts that creep into your head and heart.
Apologetics will keep you in the faith when hard times come. In asking questions and finding their answers your faith is strengthened as you learn how Christianity best adheres to reality. It becomes so as you realize in fresh and deeper ways exactly what the disciples discovered upon the road, that there is nowhere else to go. Jesus holds the keys to eternal life.