I have learned the story of Martin Luther in bits and pieces. Those glimpses are always deeply challenging to me in ways that are hard to express in words. From what I have seen, he was a man who experienced intense emotions, trusted God fiercely, and followed Him passionately and sometimes waveringly (and again, I’m not an expert on the life of Luther, so feel free to correct me) . What strikes me is that the wavering didn’t negate the faith. Wavering and deep trust are not, as I often have heard implied, mutually exclusive. They are mutually enhancing in ways that cannot be comprehended with human logic.
I had always pictured Luther as one who did what he had to do confidently without really caring or being affected by the cost. Yet, as I hear, read or see parts of his story, I get glimpses of a man who counted the cost and maybe wasn’t always sure he could bear the cost, but knew that he would continue to obey and follow his God, no matter what. The commitment didn’t make the cost not matter. But neither did the cost, however much it agonized him, keep him from the commitment to follow God.
Today I received an email from The Listener’s Bible website, which is the internet home for the dramatic readings of Max McLean. As the name suggests, he is most well known for his dramatic narrations of the Bible in several different versions. He does, however, have recordings of other writings as well. Today’s email was an advertisement for the recording, “Martin Luther’s Here I Stand”, in honor of Reformation Day coming up next week. Here is the description of the recording:
In the late afternoon of April 18, 1521, in the city of Worms, Germany, Martin Luther, a 37 year-old Catholic monk was called to defend himself before Charles the Fifth, the Holy Roman Emperor. The speech he delivered that day, Here I Stand, marked the beginning of the Reformation, a critical turning point in Christian history, that decisively altered the spiritual map of the world.
In this recording, Max McLean introduces the events leading up to the Diet of Worms: Martin Luther’s prayer the night before he delivered his speech; Luther’s stirring defense; the Catholic church’s rebuttal; and, Luther’s final heartfelt response.
The 24 minute CD of this recording is available to purchase, but you can listen to the first half online here. Luther’s agonizing prayer the night before his confident “Here I Stand” speech gives me courage and comfort. Even though I have not heard the end of this recording, my admiration for Luther has grown from taking the time to think about and feel the weight of “the night before” his famous stand. His prayer for courage to do what was right is powerful and moving.
Have you ever done things that you were convinced God was leading you to do? And it didn’t make sense to those around you, even believers? But you trusted God anyway? And then, as you trusted and followed, things began to turn out horrible, worse than even your worst critics and mockers had articulated? So bad, that you think, “Had I known it would turn out like this, I don’t know if I would have done what I thought God was leading me to do.” So bad that you question, “Was God really leading me? What did I do wrong? I must have done something wrong or misunderstood God to have to it be turning out this way.” So bad that your worst critics and mockers now rise against you with greater force, fury and confidence? And even when God has confirmed and reconfirmed that you are following in His path, you stand on God’s side continuing to obey, but a little bit on the side of your questioners, because they are asking questions you don’t have answers for. You don’t have answers to their questions, because they are the same questions you are asking.
I think that has always been the most costly kind of trust for me: the kind where I can’t answer my accusers because I am asking some of the same questions they are. But they are asking them as accusations, as proof, so to speak, against God. As proof of the foolishness or error of my ways. As proof, in their eyes, even of my lack of trust and following God. And I’m asking God some of the same questions, but with a heart that has already made my choice. A heart that agonizes at what I don’t understand about God’s ways, but responds to that agony by falling into God and falling back on trusting God even when it doesn’t make sense. And that not only leaves me without a logical defense, it seems to prove the point of my accusers that I’m speaking and acting illogically, unreasonably and erroneously.
I am not saying that Luther asked the exact questions I at times ask. And I’m not saying he wavered in exactly the ways that I do. And the consequences of my choice to follow God have never been as costly or widespread as Luther’s were. But when I learn of his life, I am encouraged to see that the confidence and strength I remember most about him seemed to grow out of walking through and grappling with the questions, the agonizing, the conflicting and heavy emotions–weighing those and reaffirming, in spite of all of that, that his choice had been made. I really do think that rather than a wavering heart being a sign of a lack of trust, that wavering can at times be a part of the process of strengthening not only our trust in God, but our commitment to continue trusting (and acting in obedience to that trust) no matter what the cost.
Even as I write that, I’m aware of how easy it is for such trust to “make sense” to social scientists as a self-constructed deception that enables me to resolve cognitive dissonance inside of myself. I don’t at all doubt how crazy trusting God looks, because I feel that craziness myself sometimes. And yet, even though I see how crazy it seems, I continue to believe and trust that it only looks crazy when I have to make sense of it with the pieces of the puzzle that I can see in human terms.
When I only see the actions and results that happen on a human level, very little makes sense. When I catch glimpses of God at work, not just in very practical, down-to-earth ways through His people, but also at work in ways beyond my comprehension, I deeply believe I’d be crazy NOT to trust Him, NOT to follow His leading in my life.