It is nine o’clock in the morning. But as I type this it is as dark as night. It looks like it could begin pouring out any moment.
This morning I am thinking about an ancient phenomenon—one that is known as the Dark Night of the Soul.
The term “Dark Night of the Soul” comes to us from St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth century Spanish monk and mystic.
Lutherans have their own version of the Dark Night of the Soul. It is known as Anfechtungen.
Anfechtungen is the German word that Luther used to describe the overwhelming times of spiritual trial, terror, despair, and religious crisis that he experienced throughout his life. At the heart of such an anfechtung was the terrifying feeling that God was going to judge and condemn the sinner at any moment. In the wake of such a feeling came subsequent feelings of deep sadness that God had forsaken one.
Martin Luther's relentless search for forgiveness and peace with God can be fully understood only against the backdrop of his frequent anfechtungen.
It is important to see why Luther considered his spiritual trials as good. His anfechtungen were valuable because they drove him to Scripture and compelled him to cling to God's promises. They taught him by experience, how sure, mighty, and comforting, God's promises can be.
It was through the Scriptures that Luther overcame his anfechtungen. When the onslaught of darkness began he would turn not just to any word of Scripture, but to the Gospel portions of Scripture, the promises, which spoke of Christ's completed salvation and of God's present help and mercy.
Luther's anfechtungen were crucial to him, for they drove him into Scripture; and once inside the Scriptures they continually drove him to Christ.
Special thanks to the article "Luther's Anfechtungen" by Dr. Richard P. Bucher. I thank Dr. Bucher for his wonderful analysis of Anfecthungen.