I was reading a bit about Luther the other day. I really admire him. I was especially struck this time by the intensity of the struggle that preceded his so-called “tower experience” in which he came to understand the doctrine of justification by faith from Romans 1:17. I cannot figure out whether this experience came after his posting the 95 theses in October 1517 or before, but it does seem to have come after a great deal of struggle and courage. I’m researching and writing much about Anselm these days, and I’m also struck by the intensity of the struggle he experienced that produced his magnificent book, Proslogion. In fact, I can’t think of too many figures in church history who broke through to some new theological or spiritual insight without intense struggle. Augustine’s conversion comes to my mind as I write, too.
We all tend to think that truth is easy for us to see. We intuitively feel that we don’t need resources external to ourselves, or struggle within, to arrive at truth. Self-doubt is not our default. But church history reminds me that seeing the truth often requires struggle. What is it that I currently don’t see and that I can only learn to see through deep personal struggle? That is a question that Luther makes me ask. Justification by faith may be clearer to us modern Protestants than it was to him – but then, I’m sure there are things that were clear to him that are unclear to us. Where is doctrinal struggle for us? It must be somewhere. Certain parts of the truth may be easy for us to see, because certain parts of the truth are easy for everyone to see. But there must be parts of the truth that are difficult to see, because truth is unchanging and culture is always changing, and we are affected by culture.
Two other thoughts:
1) It seems to me that the two parts of Proverbs 3:5 are related: “trust in the Lord with all your heart” will necessarily lead to “do not lean on your own understanding.” They are not merely parallel commands, but two pieces of one reality.
2) I wonder if part of what gave Luther the steeliness and conviction and courage that he displayed in defending justification by faith was the struggle that preceded his discovery it. Things lightly attained are more likely to be easily discarded. But we don’t typically discard things for which we have paid a heavy price. I wonder if the struggle toward personal arrival at certain truths is what will make them really forceful in us and through us.
A prayer this makes me pray: “Lord, give me light to see things that are currently dark to me. Where I am uncertain, help me to press forward until I have broken through. Where I am wide in your truth, make me also deep; where I am deep, make me also wide. Let your Word be forceful and real to my heart. And give me the humility to always remember that I see in a mirror dimly!”