Monday, August 15, 2011

Martin Luther's strange help in understanding & enjoying Scripture

Just read this comforting word recently and thought it was an appropriate excerpt for those of us having to watch others walk through suffering, as well as for when we partake of that same suffering. Glory be to Yeshua's name in all seasons of life.

Luther noticed in Psalm 119 that the writer not only prayed and meditated over the Word of God in order to understand it - he also suffered in order to understand it. The psalmist says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word...It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Ps 119:67, 71). An indispensable key to understanding the Scriptures is suffering in the path of righteousness. It is sure that we will all be given this key: "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). For some, the Word comes with the key attached: "You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess 1:6). That's the way it was for Luther.
He proved the value of trials over and over again in his own experience.

For as soon as God's Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you, will make a real doctor (teacher of doctrine) of you, and will teach you by his temptation to seek and to love God's Word. For I myself...owe my papists (Roman Catholic adversaries) many thanks for so beating, pressing, and frightening me through the devil's raging, that they have turned me into a fairly good theologian driving me to a goal I should never have reached.

Suffering was woven into life for Luther. Emotionally and spiritually he underwent the most oppressive struggles. For example, in a letter to Melancthon on Aug 2 1527, he writes:
For many a week I have been thrown back and forth in death and Hell; my whole body feels beaten, my limbs are still trembling. I almost lost Christ completely, driven about on the waves and storms of despair and blasphemy against God. But because of the intercession of the faithful, God began to take mercy on me and tor my soul from the depths of Hell.

These were the trials that opened his eyes to the meaning of Scripture. These experiences were as much a part of his exegetical labors as was his Greek lexicon. Seeing such things in the lives of the saints has caused me to think twice before I begrudge the trials of my ministry. How often I am tempted to think that the pressures and conflicts and frustrations are simply distractions from the business of ministry and Bible study. Luther (along with Ps 119: 67, 71) teaches us to see it all another way. The stresses of life, the interruptions, the disappointments, the conflicts, the physical ailments, the losses - all of these may well be the very lens through which we see the meaning of God's Word as never before. Paradoxically, the pain of life may open to us the Word that becomes the pathway to joy.

~ John Piper, When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, pg. 134-135