No, that is not a sneeze. It is a German word used by Martin Luther for what is a multi-faceted concept. David P. Scaer writes in his article (I’ll be quoting a lot from it in this blog) on this subject in the Concordia Theological Quarterly, “Some words defy adequate translation.” Several theologians and pastors have tried to translate this term into English:
Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics uses “temptation”
Herbert Bouman uses “trials”
Plass in What Luther Says uses “affliction”
The American Translation of Luther’s Works adds “tribulation”
Anfechtung is certainly one of those terms which are difficult to explain with a single word. It seems that these are the four best words, in my opinion, which make up this term. I will follow Rev. Scaer’s thoughts and utilize each of the four in this post. It is my prayer that this post will help you and that you just may begin using it yourself so that it helps you get through times of trial, temptation, affliction and tribulation.
I had not known this word until earlier this year in our Ladies Bible Study at Faith Lutheran Church. We had been studying Martin Luther’s short booklet on prayer when my dear friend, Sally, brought us an article about this as we were studying “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” section of the Lord’s Prayer. Each of us women sat there listening intently thinking of all those times when troubles assailed us. I could remember back to when my husband was battling cancer and how powerless I felt. As Sally was reading the article I thought of how it seemed the world was against us and yet, I found comfort knowing God as my Heavenly Father was caring for me. It would be this past semester when the word Anfechtung would be the only term to explain the struggle I would go through. I took comfort that Martin Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God spoke of this and was encouraged with these words:
Though hordes of devils fill the land
All threat’ning to devour us,
We tremble not, unmoved we stand;
They cannot over pow’r us.
Let this world’s tyrant rage;
In battle we’ll engage
His might is doomed to fail
God’s judgment must prevail!
One little word subdues him. (LSB 657: https://youtu.be/mTjmnGTs5fY)
We know that Word is the Living Word Himself, Jesus Christ. It is in Him that Anfechtung has its perfect way in us.
This semester was my final semester in working towards a second Masters in Christian Studies with a concentration in Church History. Almost two years of school was coming to a close and I knew it would be challenging. I did not expect what was about to come as it challenged my faith and the teachings of Scripture which are held most dear. I was finishing up my last course on Systematic Theology when the challenge came, bold, brash and blunt. I knew as a Lutheran in a Baptist seminary that there would be differences in biblical understanding but I did not expect that my goal would be jeopardized.
Scaer writes in his article that Satan is the source of Anfechtung. The enemy wants to sow seeds of discord between believers and also confusion into the Word of God. Well, that’s what he does; he lies and is a liar. While Satan is not everywhere he will use others to afflict God’s People. Luther held that there was no part of the life of the Christian that would not be exempt from Satan’s dart and arrows.
Anfechtung bring challenges...
The week of Finals came and I designated certain days to take each of the exams so as not to be overburdened or stressed. Well, that didn’t work out too well. I took the first Final and electronically submitted it with no problem. Then, I sat down for the second and as I completed I went to hit the Submit button when I noticed a little yellow triangle on the bottom corner of my desktop which indicated there was no internet. Noooo!!!
This is a timed exam and I had about 30 minutes to complete it. I called the phone company and they informed me the entire town was down. I then called the school and they assured me that if I could not get internet access they would reset the exam and I could take it again. I was frustrated to the point of crying again.
That night, however, was Advent service at church. I was determined we would get there even no matter what. Well, we made it. After the service I’d gathered with the other ladies from the Tuesday Bible study and shared what had happened with the internet and my exam. I also shared how there still was no re-grade on a particular paper. That is when our Pastor’s wife, Mary Jane, said; “Anfechtung” and it hit me. Yes, that explained everything. It was another trial and a temptation to despair again. I shared what my husband said I should have said, “Satan is that all you got?” They laughed but we all stood there in the Narthex of church and I finally recognized that I was living out Anfechtung. This actually brought me comfort…I know it was odd but it did.
The next day I called the school and spoke with the woman who’d helped me earlier. She had reset everything for me. Well, I took the exam again and everything went through just fine.
Anfechtung ...filled with God’s Blessings
Now, I know things don’t always work out the way we want. However, God wants to work something in us, strengthen us, forgive us and guide us through this sinful, fallen world and make us more like Christ. Trial, temptation, tribulation and affliction does this. In Scaer’s article he quote Luther on the purpose of Anfechtung: “that every sin and the whole body of sin may be destroyed by believing in the forgiveness, lest we fall either into presumption or into despair, but it keeps us in the middle way, that we acknowledge our sin and call upon God.”(pg. 25)
This is what Anfechtung did for me this time; I focused upon the sins which were becoming evident in me; anxiety, frustration, anger and confessed them to Christ knowing that I am baptized and therefore forgiven and His righteousness now clothes me. I realized that I have a long way to go in my Christian walk but this period of Anfechtung did not lead me to question my salvation, it made me run to the Savior even more. Satan wanted me to despair. God was teaching me that He will bring me through and mold me more and more. Here was Romans 12 coming into practice.
Paul tells us we are “not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect…” (Romans 12:2 ESV)
Anfechtung...A way of life for the Believer
Scaer writes “Life with Constant Anfechtung…Though faith is engendered in the Christian without the Anfechtung, it is plagued with them throughout life…as soon as one becomes a Christian, Satan plants himself at the doorstep. Until the Christian dies, he is without peace.” (pg. 26)
My struggle this semester was about my personal attitude. I have to admit, in that arena I failed. I had been crushed under the affliction and arrows Satan hurled at me. Anfechtung is certainly a great term that explains the life of the believer and I know there will be times in the future where I will have to learn this again. This time, I was frustrated, angry and in despair about completing this goal which I had worked on for nearly two years. Yet, in His love and by His grace and mercy, He brought me through.
Anfechtung with friends
There is no doubt that what brought me through was God’s grace. However, it was the how and through whom He showed this grace that I will cherish forever. Barb, Janet, Judy, Lee Ann, Mary Jane and Sally, these were God’s instruments of comfort, courage and conviction. It was these ladies whom God used. It was these from the Tuesday Ladies Bible Study who understood the frustrations as I recounted to them the many challenges that semester and who held me up.
When at the end, when I could see that finish line tape, when I felt like suddenly there were lead weights tied around my ankles and someone/thing holding me back from crossing that line, it was these ladies who were confident God would bring me through and be glorified. They encouraged me. They let me cry. They prayed for me. They loved me…in the mess, in the anger, in the frustration and anxiety.
It was at that Tuesday study that the Lesson for Advent Season took on a whole new light. It was about rejoicing and casting our cares on the Lord. These ladies reminded me:
Rejoice in the Lord Always Philippians 4:4
Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you 1 Peter 5:7
“Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen (Luther at the Diet of Worms)
As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening and morning and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud; and He shall hear my voice.
From the hymn, Jesus, Priceless Treasure, we sing (listen here: https://youtu.be/2t7jhdxZFgE):
In Thine arms I rest me;
Foes who would molest me
Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking,
Every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
Lightnings flash and thunders crash
Yet, though sin and hell assail me
Jesus will not fail me.
Luther was right to coin the phrase, Anfechtung, because the life of the believer is one of Anfechtung.
In the First Article explanation in Luther’s Small Catechism it says,
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean?
…He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.
All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
This is most certainly true!
(From Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, pg. 146)
In the end, I learned that Anfechtung does indeed come with God's blessings.