Sunday, June 04, 2006

Dialogue on Luther's "Getting to a Gracious God" (vs. "CPA")

This exchange began with a post by Al Kimel (aka the "Pontificator"): formerly an Anglican priest; now a Catholic. "CPA" (Lutheran) responded with the piece: "How Do I Get a Gracious God?" in the Intertestamental Era. I also replied to comments of his in discussion, in my paper, Luther's Frequent Depression, Spiritual Crises, & Erroneous Projection Onto St. Paul of His "Evangelical Experience". Presently, I wish to reply to some of the biblical texts that CPA sets forth in order to show that Martin Luther's own spiritual experience is normative, or, at any rate, not unusual or eccentric or suggestive of possible serious psychological problems.

CPA's words will be in blue; Al Kimel's will be in green; and Martin Luther's in red.

* * * * *

The Pontificator has recently voiced a sentiment I've heard expressed before: that Luther's agonizing search for a gracious God was a personal eccentricity, or perhaps a sickness of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but in any case not a question that would have made sense to the Apostle Paul from whom Luther sought to find the solution to his great question.

"How do I get a gracious God?" . . . I cannot imagine the question being posed in the early centuries of the Church. Christians then simply knew God was gracious. They rejoiced in his paschal triumph over death and the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit. They were confident they would share in his Kingdom. They had been made new creatures by water and Holy Spirit. They now shared in the divine life of the Holy Trinity. Each Sunday they ate the Body and Blood of their Savior. They knew their God was a God of love and mercy, and so they lived their lives in hope. There were no guarantees, of course. They knew they possessed the power to turn away from salvation and enslave themselves once again to sin and death. And so, like the Apostle, they worked out their salvation in "fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12). Yet as far as I can tell, few suffered from a "terrified conscience." There was no crisis of assurance.

Well, this is very odd . . .

CPA then proceeds to make an elaborate analogical argument from the deuterocanonical book 2 Esdras, claiming that it is "one of the great pieces of doubt and despair of God's justice and mercy." It may very well be that. But I agree with Al Kimel, who wrote in his counter-reply: "I'm afraid I do not see how his argument in any way touches upon mine." He gives this reason:

My piece is devoted exclusively to the common experience of Christians. What CPA needs to demonstrate is (1) the Reformation doctrine of imputational righteousness represents the authentic understanding of the Church catholic, and (2) the Western misformulation of justification was responsible for torturing the consciences of Western Christians, of whom Martin Luther was simply one example.

. . . The Lutheran is reduced to resurrecting the myth of the Church's abandonment of the Pauline gospel, followed by fifteen hundred years of apostasy, with God finally raising up the eschatological prophet Martin Luther to restore his Church. . . .

But does grace-enabled synergism necessarily cause anxiety and terror? Only, I would think, if the demands made by the Church upon the believer are impossible. If the Church requires X to avoid Hell, and X is beyond my reach, then I will have good reason to be anxious about my eternal salvation. But were the demands stipulated by the medieval Church impossible? Here we need to see solid historical evidence. Clearly it is insufficient to cite Luther as proof of a culture-wide problem. Luther appears to have internalized the Law and its condemnation in a way not mandated by the Church. . . .

Healthy people do not spend six hours straight in a confessional trying to identity every possible little sin in their life. "Oh, my sin, my sin, my sin!" Martin once cried. His spiritual director, Johann von Staupitz, caustically told him: "You have no real sin. You make a sin out of every trifle." No wonder Staupitz eventually threw him out of the confessional and told him not to come back until he had some real sins to confess. Again and again Staupitz sought to direct Luther to the merciful Savior, but Luther could not accept the absolution of Christ. This wasn't the system's fault. Luther had a real problem.

In comments on Al's blog, CPA tried to argue that Luther's agonies and serious crises of faith were restricted primarily to his early years. But I produced three major Luther biographers (Oberman, Bainton, and Steinmetz) asserting quite the contrary. Bainton wrote, concerning these recurring dreadful episodes of depression: "His whole life was a struggle against them, a fight for faith." But CPA goes beyond even that. He contends that the normative (or at least not unusual) situation in the Bible itself and the history of the Jews is this tormented crisis of faith in God's graciousness and mercy:

Of course, one could claim that none of these figures are mature Catholics nourished with the fullness of Catholic doctrine. But remember, the argument is, "Luther's agony has nothing in common psychologically with Paul's." But the writings of Esdras form a remarkable middle term between the two, making a contemporary and historically plausible explanation of the temptations to doubt and blasphemy that laid the biographical background of Paul's theology, just as it lay behind Luther's.

CPA dramatically concludes:

It is a bit absurd really, to pretend that contemplation of the injustice God seems to allow in the world, the waywardness of our hearts, and the doubtful destiny of the vast majority of mankind could only bring the occasional neurotic close to despair, . . .

This section makes it clear that CPA is actually grappling with a very different question than was Luther in his spiritual crises, and Al Kimel in his paper, which is why it really doesn't directly address those things. CPA wants to look at the well-known themes of Job and Ecclesiastes: men of conscience wrestling with the problem of evil and the tragedy of so many human beings ending up in hell, and/or being unconcerned about spiritual things and committing sin with no seemingly significant temporal consequences.

No one disputes that. I myself have always thought - both as a Protestant apologist and as a Catholic - that the problem of evil is the most serious, substantive objection to Christianity. I approach it (in trying to offer some decent Christian explanations) with the utmost seriousness.

It's an excellent, most worthy topic to explore, and I commend CPA for doing so, but it doesn't support the claim that Luther's experience was a parallel to the Apostle Paul's, and something common to many many Christians. How could it? It's a different subject altogether. CPA cites Luther's words in his 1525 book, The Bondage of the Will:

Doubtless it gives the greatest possible offense to common sense or natural reason, that God, Who is proclaimed as being full of mercy and goodness, and so on, should of His own mere will abandon, harden, and damn men, as though he delighted in the sins and great eternal torments of such wretches. It seems an iniquitous, cruel, intolerable thought to think of God; and it is this that has been a stumbling block to so many great men down the ages. And who would not stumble at it? I have stumbled at it myself more than once, down to the deepest pit of despair, so that I wish I had never been made a man. (p. 217)
Sure, this would cause anyone to despair, because it is a false doctrine in the first place! Double predestination is not Catholic teaching (or Orthodox). Even the Lutherans themselves rejected it when they formulated their doctrines in the Book of Concord some 50 years later (as have the great majority of Protestants for 500 years). So Luther despairing over a false doctrine that makes men the author of evil and a Being Who creates men solely to be damned and tormented forever in eternity, without ultimate reference to their own rebellion and cause for their own demise, has little to do with anything other than the illogical, wrongheaded thoughts of heresy and falsehood. That's neither here nor there.

If the object is to bring Luther closer to Paul and normative Christianity, this is not the way to do it. But in any event, the question that Al Kimel was dealing with - the one that troubled Luther so throughout his life -, and which CPA purports to answer, is quite different:

"How do I get a gracious God?"

[D]oes grace-enabled synergism necessarily cause anxiety and terror?

Heiko Oberman recounts how Luther wrote, after struggling nearly a month in perhaps his worst crisis, in 1527: "I almost lost Christ completely, driven about on the waves and storms of despair and blasphemy against God." Oberman continued: "In October [now three months out of the nine this crisis would last] he was still haunted by anguish and urgently requested Melanchthon to remember him in his prayers of intercession since he himself was a 'miserable worm,' plagued by the spirit of sadness . . . Luther was looking for the gracious God . . ."

Exactly. This isn't essentially about Luther struggling with the fact that people are damned, or that a lot of them may very well be, and trying to square this with a gracious God. This is about Luther being unable to accept God's grace for himself and feeling himself to be in the "depths of Hell," as he put it. Thus Bainton described Luther's crises as "The content of the depression was always the same, the loss of faith that God is good and that he is good to me." Note how the personal element was essential to the crisis (the italics were his own, not mine).

David Steinmetz concurs and refers to the core of Luther's agony as: "an unnerving and enervating fear that God had turned his back on him once and for all, had repudiated his repentance and prayers, and had abandoned him to suffer the pains of hell. Luther felt alone in the universe, battered by the demands of God's law and beyond the reach of the gospel. He doubted his own faith, his own mission, and the goodness of God." [this time the bolding is my own]

[see all the sources for these biographical citations in my paper on Luther's crises]

This is what Catholics deny is the case for St. Paul, or (apart from the usual tragedies and disappointments in life that throw us for a loop for a time) for the ordinary Christian, following and trusting God. Quite the opposite of a robust faith and trust in God's mercy, that one would assume is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and the sacraments, it shows a radical lack of same. I would maintain that the Old Testament period does not show us the norm for the Christian life because only a few people were indwelt by the Holy Spirit in those days.

This makes an entire difference. I need not recount the manifold blessings of Pentecost: Catholics and Lutherans and all other Christians agree that the Holy Spirit within us causes a massive change in outlook and ability to follow God. So we may overlook the "evidence" of 2 Esdras on those grounds. What else does CPA offer by way of biblical data that Christian folks supposedly routinely struggle with their trust in a gracious God the way Luther did (what he calls "fairly obvious counter-examples in the New Testament")?:

I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

[Romans 9:3]
How in the world does this show some difficulty "getting [finding] a gracious God?" Again, it has nothing to do with that. This is Paul simply showing his extraordinary love for his kinsmen, the Jews. I think this verse offers somewhat of a parallel between Paul's love and that of Jesus, since our Lord also had "become a curse" for the sake of the salvation of mankind (Gal 3:13-14; cf. Rom 8:3)). It's the Jewish language of sacrifice on behalf of others: well familiar because of the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant.

But how does this indicate that Paul struggled with appropriating to himself God's love, mercy, and graciousness? It doesn't support such a notion in the least. Paul had just written Romans 8, after all: one of the most glorious, hopeful chapters in the entire Bible (and there were no chapter divisions originally). He was quite sure of God's graciousness there:

1) "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (8:1; RSV)

2) "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death." (1:2)

3) Christians walk "according to the Spirit." (8:4)

4) Christians "set their minds on the things of the Spirit." (8:5)

5) This brings "life and peace" (8:6)

6) We Christians all have the Holy Spirit inside of us (8:9-11)

7) This makes our spirits "alive because of righteousness." (8:10)

8) This makes us "sons of God." (8:14-17)

9) This gives us hope and patience (8:24-25)

10) And all things work for good (8:28)

11) And this brings justification to us (8:30,33)

12) "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (8:35) Paul then lists seven horrible things which cannot do this, including martyrdom, but "in all these things we are more than conquerors" (8:37)

13) He concludes that there isn't "anything . . . in all creation" that "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (8:39)
All this, yet Paul is somehow analogous to Luther, struggling to figure out that God loves him (and all men) and is merciful and gracious? I don't get it. Perhaps CPA can enlighten us as to the mysterious process of his reasoning here. Then he appeals to the classic Protestant prooftext of Romans 7:

I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

[Romans 7:21-24]
Once again: how does this prove in the least that Paul doubts God's graciousness and willingness to save? I don't see it. Perhaps I'm missing something crucial. Paul teaches that the man under the law struggling with concupiscence is destined to fail. But of course this merely proves my point that the Holy Spirit makes an entire difference (precisely the topic of his next chapter, which resolves the rhetorical dilemma he has created in Romans 7). But he hints at the solution even in Romans 7 itself. Protestants love to cite the above verses, as proof of ongoing "total depravity" or the ultimate futility of sanctification in this life (I used to do it myself), but (as usual) they radically neglect context, not only that of the next chapter but in this chapter, too.

Paul argues that when we were "living in the flesh," sin and death reigned over us, and that the law actually in some sense "aroused" this (7:5). Of course; all agree on that. But now (i.e., Christians in the age of grace and pentecost) "serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit." (7:6). So Paul gives a sneak preview of Romans 8. He goes on to argue that the law was not, indeed, a bad thing (7:7,12). But the law (given human propensity to sin and temptation) offers "opportunity" for the sinner to enter into more sin (7:8-11,13-14). In the carnal flesh dwells no good thing, and we all struggle with it, often hypocritically, with our wills often being weak (7:15-25).

But the entire solution is found in Romans 8. It's interesting that Paul includes suffering - even profound suffering - as part of the "solution"; actually making it an outright condition for being "heirs with Christ, provided we SUFFER with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (8:17) The sufferings of Christ become our own in some mysterious sense, and we are to identify with our Lord's suffering . This is a rather common motif in Paul (cf. 2 Cor 1:5-7; 4:10, 11:23-30; Gal 2:20, 6:17; Phil 3:10; and above all, Col 1:24), yet one scarcely dealt with or recognized by Protestants at all.

There is plenty of suffering to be had, yet it is a suffering without sdespair of God's mercy and graciousness. That forms no part of it at all. Luther's experience was not Paul's. This can't be stressed highly enough. Nor can Pauline soteriology be constructed out of the whole cloth of Luther's non-typical experience of recurrent existential despair and angst. Not everyone is like him. If he had recognized that himself, the history of theology for the last 500 years may have been vastly different.

CPA throws in another passage from Romans 8, not seeming to realize that the context entirely disposes of his claim (as explained above):

For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

[Romans 8:22-23]
Does this teach that we ought to despair of God's mercy, as if that is a usual, expected occurrence of the Christian life? Nope. Not a word about that . . . It's the very first rule of writing: if you are gonna write a paper, give it a title which accurately reflects the contents. CPA calls his, "How Do I Get a Gracious God?" in the Intertestamental Era. The opening paragraph is also key to setting the theme and the "agenda" of a paper. CPA uses his to expressly deny that "Luther's agonizing search for a gracious God was a personal eccentricity, or perhaps a sickness of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries."

Okay. So presumably the rest of the paper will be devoted to establishing his thesis, which denies the Catholic disavowal of the standard Protestant "Luther and Paul are two peas of a pod" mindset, right? Wrong! He does no such thing, because - as I think I've shown - he switches the topic and never gets back to the presumed subject of his title and first paragraph (nor, for that matter, that of Al Kimel's essay which he is purporting to refute). Perhaps he was unaware of this (I'm not accusing him of obfuscation or cheap lawyer's tricks), but in any case, he didn't prove his ostensible original thesis (or counter-thesis) in the least.

He tries a few more prooftexts. These can be easily disposed with as non sequiturs regarding the actual topic, too:

Then said one unto him, 'Lord, are there few that be saved?' And he said unto them, 'Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.'
Many are lost; few are saved. This should cetainly motivate one to get out and share the Christian gospel of salvation with folks. It's a great reason for what I do, and what motivates me, as a Catholic apologist and evangelist, but what does it have to do with God supposedly being unmerciful, or our difficulty in recognizing this truth? Nothing.

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
Ditto. This adds the additional element of warning about the hypocrisy of even good works, done for the wrong reason, or in service of the wrong master. What is in this passage about wrestling with mixed feelings about God's mercifulness? Zilch, zero, nada, nuthin' . . .

When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, "Who then can be saved?"

Sure; they were amazed at the seeming difficulty of salvation, as they well should have been. What CPA doesn't seem to realize, however, is that these passages come from the disciples before Pentecost. They were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit, which easily accounts for their almost totally dumbfounded incomprehension of most of what our Lord Jesus taught. They didn't understand the cross and His sacrificial, redemptive death, even though He explained it to them. He told them everything that was going to happen, but not one seemed to have grasped it until after the Resurrection (another thing they seemed to have no idea would happen, even though they had been told). They scarcely understood the Eucharist (John 6). Peter was such a wimp that he denied Jesus. They were so prideful and self-centered that they actually argued with each other to see who was the "greatest." Etc., etc.

Once the Spirit fell upon them, however, it was very different, and we see Peter delivering a fiery, confident sermon (Acts 2) and going out, starting to turn ther world upside down. So citing their questions to Jesus before all that happened has little to do with a Spirit-filled, educated Christian in our time. It's as if CPA thinks the addition of the Holy Spirit living inside Christians is irrelevant to the larger question of trust in God, faith, and personal relationship with God. The disciples thus had a big excuse. What was Luther's, though? I think it is quite charitable (as I wrote before) to attribute his severe depressions and extreme overscrupulosity to some recognizable psychological disorder (which means it was - in all likelihood - strictly chemical and involuntary in nature).

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
That tells a great deal about Peter, but not anything about God, or (more to the point) what Peter thought of God as concerns His mercy or communication of it to mankind, or lack thereof.

Now if my friend CPA would actually reply to my friend Al Kimel's argument about the bogus Luther-Paul soteriological (and psychological) equation (rather than digress into the very different topic of Job-like and Ecclesiastes-type existential angst and troubled consciences over the fate of much of mankind), I would be highly interested to see that. I think it is an important "historical theology" topic that Protestants need to directly confront.

But CPA was still going in his own direction, in his follow-up paper, Why the Pontificator and I Don't Agree What the Issue Is. There he writes:

But let me try to analyze why we aren't on the same page. The main reason, I think, is that we use different loci to analyze Luther's theology and especially his anfechtung (roughly "temptation"). For me, the place to go to for an understanding of the role of anfecthtung in Luther's theology is public writings like the Bondage of the Will, which contains several discussions of the temptation to hate God and reject Him. (His commentaries on Romans contains similar passages). The Pontificator, as he shows in his reply, sees the place to go as Luther's autobiographical comments in which he describes his six hours of confession, and so on.

The temptation to "hate" God and "reject" Him are entirely different things from questioning whether God is merciful to one. The first is a problem in God Himself: Luther creates a "god" who creates people in order to damn them. This is heresy and all should rightly be horrified; so Luther was. But the fault lies in the premise: whether God has revealed that he would actually do these horrible things that Luther claims. The second thing (Al Kimel's real original topic) has to do with a deficiency in the one experiencing it: it is felt that God is not merciful or gracious, which is a falsehood, so that the origin must derive from the sinful, fallible person, not with God.
Therefore, the two topics are as different as night and day; creatures and the Creator; God's holiness and love, and our sinfulness and temptations to hate.

Secondly, CPA seems to exhibit a certain psychological (even philosophical) naivete in not recognizing that one's personal life, experience, psyche, temperament, etc. have a great deal to do with one's theology. He wants to ground Luther's experience in the context or framework of his theology. Catholics (in this instance) want to ground Luther's theology in part in the framework of his experiences. As the theology affects the experience and forms an interpretive grid, so the experience affects the theology. Both things are equally valid and relevant. One can't state one and discount the other. It's a symbiotic or dynamic relationship, not a one-way situation.

Thirdly, since Luther wants to condemn the religion of Catholicism to a great extent, and medieval piety, for his own unpleasant, abnormal, non-normative experiences in confession and "fully living the monk's life" and so forth, it is perfectly acceptable for Catholics to refute such a ludicrous claim with the counter-argument that Luther's peculiar psychological difficulties are much more likely to have been the cause of his problems than Catholic piety, spirituality and soteriology.

This difference in starting point has an important influence on our conclusions. In his published works, Luther's temptations are presented in their theological context, as things that flow out of his right or wrong view of God and man. His temptations thus appear as personal versions of general theological dilemmas, such as the theodicy question. As I have tried to show (if you're interested you can follow the links in my original post), Luther's intense thoughts on this question, as seen in his published works such as Bondage of the Will, show parallels with those in, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe and the apocryphal Jewish writing 2 Esdras. Common themes include the injustice of the world in which the wicked flourish and the innocent are tormented, the fact that we are born with ignorance, lusts, and hatreds that so often damn us, and these burdens weigh so much heavier on some than others, the contrast of happy animals with miserable man whose superior gifts are not a gift but a curse because virtually all misuse it, the agony of having no way to intercede for one's loved ones : these are all common themes in this "temptation" to curse God and die.

These are interesting observations, but they simply do not explain Luther's recurring psychological-spiritual struggles, as described by his leading biographers. Nor do they prove one whit that St. Paul came from the same general perspective.

Reflections of many of these same themes can be found in the writings of Paul. (I forbear to cite Job and the Psalms.)

I don't see it. CPA could have provided some references. The ones he gave before (Romans 7-9) were all shown to not prove what he thought they proved, in my humble opinion. I don't deny that Job and Psalms (and Ecclesiastes) have these themes in abundance. I see no evidence that Paul suffered as Luther did. Paul (quite arguably) went through far more than Luther, yet he maintained his joy and peace, unlike Luther, who was, by his own report, a tormented, torn individual. That looks like it is in some sense God's will, too (some people are that way and seem to be unable to overcome it). A lot of this flows simply froim different temperaments and life experiences. But that is far different from the claim that Luther's experience is widespread, normative (i.e., for devout, observant Christians), and similar to the Apostle Paul's (let alone having some serious implications for true soteriology or theology proper). I vehemently deny all four things.

The problem with this focus on autobiography is that, of course, we have no way of knowing if Paul or any other figure of the time was similarly introspective. None of them have left us anything like Luther's Tabletalk. What was Paul like as a Rabbinic Jew? Did he obsessively wash his hands? Was he morbidly afraid of contact with Gentiles? Who knows? After all, we don't even know what his "thorn in the flesh" was. As a result, we are free to imagine Paul or the early Christians as being entirely free from all of the personal peculiarities we find in all the people around us, simply because there was no genre for a "warts and all" biography in the Judeo-Christian world of the time.

It's true that we know relatively little about Paul, personally, yet we can deduce a fair amount of information from his writings. But then, by the same token, how can Luther deign to claim that his experience was highly similar to Paul's, if we know too little about Paul to even form a general picture of his personality and personal struggles? It seems to me that one would have to either deny the similarity (as I do) or concede that there is too little data to make an educated guess. Yet CPA claims that Paul writes about "many of these same themes." So what gives?

. . . it seems to me to be far fairer and more likely to produce enlightenment if we compare like with like: Paul's writings about divine justice in the damnation of those we love in Romans, with that in (for example) Bondage of the Will or 2 Esdras, rather than comparing the apple of Paul's theological writings with the orange of Luther's autobiographical comments at the dinner table.

I agree. This is exactly why I object to Luther projecting his personal experience onto Paul's theology. Now we're getting somewhere! Luther's rather unique experiences and psyche not only have nothing to do with Paul's theology, they don't even have much similarity with what we know about Paul's own personality, existential struggles, etc. So one thing is apples and oranges; the other is Macintosh apples and Golden Delicious apples (difference of topic in one case and of type in the other). But Paul did not struggle with the graciousness of God. If someone thinks he did, I'd like to see the evidence for such an assertion (preferably analyzed with incorporation of theological and textual context this time).

I don't blame the catalogue of "temptation"-inducing thoughts I presented above on the Catholic church, on Judaism, on double predestination or any other culturally/theologically contingent phenomenon.

Yes, you may not do that, but Luther did, which is precisely the point. We as Catholics and myself as an apologist have to deal with the historical-theological fruit that this man brought about. One aspect of that is this business that he was some kind of preeminent interpreter of Paul and exemplar in his own life of Paul's experience. This is sheer nonsense. But since it was massively projected onto soteriological thought (theology of salvation) in Protestant circles, we deal with it today as an ongoing issue.

You are simply using your head and thinking interesting speculations. But we have to overcome the foolish notion that Pauline theology is exclusively Protestant/Lutheran theology, as if you guys have a lock on understanding all those things. To a large extent, it has become an example of assuming that which you are trying to prove (circular argument). That's why N.T. Wright is so valuable today because he cuts through the centuries of encrusted Protestant pseudo-tradition in this area and provides (from within a Protestant paradigm) a much-needed fresh analysis: examining the roots and premises for a change.

I blame them on the facts of life that anyone can see around them. One can eliminate such thoughts only by eliminating injustice, unbelief, and immorality in the world, or else by abandoning belief in a just and good Creator who orders all things and is holy and condemns sin. (Let me just state, as I have a number of times, I don't believe free will solves the issue at all. Uriel's comfort is no comfort to those who mourn.)

This gets back to the confusion of category and topic-switching that I addressed above. This was not the central concern of Luther's depressions, as described by reputable biographers, and in his own letters.

But if one believes in one's gut the potential reality and danger of hell for the whole world that scoffs at Christ, then anfechtung will come.

Yes, but not in Luther's personal/psychological sense. This is the crux of the matter. Struggling with the problem of evil (which is essentially what the above boils down to) is fundamentally different from questioning whether God is gracious and merciful. In fact, it is the literal opposite, because the problem of evil only comes by the assumption of a good God from the outset. One assumes that and then struggles to understand and explain evil, hell, etc. It's precisely because God is good and merciful that these thorny philosophical/emotional problems arise. Luther's anfechtung are the precise opposite: he questions whether God is merciful, and particularly to him. Then he struggles with it regarding the double predestination issue because that "god" is not the biblical, real one, who extends grace and the invitation to salvation to everyone, not only some pre-selected ones.

To paraphrase a famous movie about baseball and dead players coming back to life: "if you build it [false theology] it [anfechtung] will come."

. . . pretty much all believers in a good, just, and holy Creator God will feel that way if they are sensitive to the weight of sin and suffering in the world, what do we do about it? What is the proper theological response?

That's right, but it (the Job / Ecclesiastes / problem of evil dilemma and ultimate mystery) is not the topic at hand, and doesn't address why Luther projected his experience onto Paul's theology, and why many Protestants adopted that fallacy uncritically, lock, stock, and barrel and can't seem to be able to see out of the theological fish-tank that they swim in and comprehend any other viewpoint. Thank God that N.T. Wright could do that. So of course he is tarred and feathered by all the reactionaries out there whose toes are stepped on when someone dares to think outside the box.

See the related papers:

N.T. Wright: Rutherford House Lecture on St. Paul (With My Reactions)

N.T. Wright & the "New Perspective" on St. Paul: Did Luther Misinterpret Paul's Soteriology?
Luther's Error Concerning Justification (N.T. Wright)

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