“Mama told me, be good, work hard, and love Mr. God. Every Sunday I lie, trying to realize why. Ain’t nothing more to say, your honor. Don’t look at me like that. The truth is; I am a free man, but I can’t enjoy my life. I came to a standstill, with lies and hopes inside my head. Always seemed to late to turn, and too soon to understand.” These are song lyrics from the band, Riverside. They cut to the core of the human condition.
This week I have been studying the concept of “anfechtung”. I would give you an english word, but unfortunately there is no direct translation. Translated literally, it means a trial or conflict. It is so much more than that, though. It is all the doubts, panic, turmoil, and desperation that invades the spirit of man. It is the isolation man feels; the need to be one with eternity while at the same time running from it. The source of the dichotomy is mankind being born depraved but created for the divine. It is the hole in the spirit that longs to be filled. I suspect that most of the readers here have some idea of what I’m talking about, unless you’re very young, in which case you’ll find out soon enough.
Anfechtung comes from man’s natural inclination to be one with God, but can be made worse by a number of things. Two of these things come from the church, and those are the things I am going to address. On one hand, you have a church that says, “Come on in as you are, bring your baggage with you. We love you, and who are we to say what is right and wrong? You feel free to stay the way you are.”
The other church says, “Feel free to come, but we have a strict set of guidelines, and a list of things that you’re going to have to take care of before we accept you into this body.” One kind of church is permissive, the other is legalistic. One ignores truth, the other ignores grace. Note the line in the song, “it always seemed too late to turn, too soon to understand.”
1st Corinthians 13 finishes with “and now these three remain:faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” There is a reason these things are grouped together. They are like the ingredients of a recipe. Without all three, the other ingredients are useless. Love without faith is a hippie, in the original sense of the word. Faith without love is a terrorist. Either love or faith without hope rots the bones. Without faith, there is no hope.
A teenager in our community died recently, and his funeral was held at (we’ll call it a church). It was one of these churches where they hold no core beliefs. Your idea of who God is is as valid as anyone else’s. When the rubber hit the road, the only thing they could talk about were all the things this boy was destined to do, but now never would. There was no hope, because there was no faith. In an effort to not be offensive, the message of hope was lost. Love without faith leaves no hope. This is one place anfechtung comes from.
Anfechtung is an inclination in the human spirit to drive man to God. The church takes anfechtung and drives man farther away from God. It may not be intentional, but that is the effect. Jesus words in Luke 17 say the following; “1He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4“And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
People who experience anfechtung are looking for answers. They recognize their own brokenness. They recognize their own aloneness. They recognize their own separation from God. Jesus further says in Matthew 23, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”
People say that faith is a crutch. I fully take ownership of that. For those who think that, I challenge you to take ownership of your crutches as well, because everyone has them. In Ethiopia recently, one of the doctors I was with was thrilled to be able to treat so many different kinds of illnesses for the poor there. The reason he was happy to treat all these different maladies was that at his own practice, the most common complaint is, “Doc, I can’t sleep. Can you prescribe something for me?”
You can’t sleep because you are struggling with your own anfechtungen. Do you drink your crutch? Does your doctor prescribe it for you? Do you eat it? Do you buy it? What is your anfechtung’s name? If faith is a crutch, I am happy to live with it.
What I would like to see is churches that recognize the struggles, the anfechtungen that people have. I would like for people to be able to enter Christian fellowship knowing that they will be accepted the way they are, but that they, through the Holy Spirit, will be helped not to stay that way. That they can bring their baggage in the door and hopefully drop it at the altar and not leave back out the door with it. It’s time to get back to the basics, to put moral pablum and platitudes aside. It’s time to put permissiveness, relativism, and legalism aside and stop standing between people and God.