“Many people view Christian faith as something easy, and quite a few people even count it as if it were related to the virtues. They do this because they have not judged faith in light of any experience, nor have they ever tasted its great power. This is because a person who has not tasted its spirit in the midst of trials and misfortune cannot possibly write well about faith or understand what has been written about it. But one who has had even a small taste of faith can never write, speak, reflect, or hear enough about it.”
That is how Martin Luther begins his essay, “On the Freedom of a Christian.” After he’s written to Pope Leo X to explain his purpose for writing, he reflects that faith is revealed in trials and troubles. To be sure, faith is a gift of God, and it can exist apart from suffering. But it is very often revealed in times of trouble.
Martin Luther himself had struggled a great deal in his life by the time he wrote these words. At age 37, he was in career trouble. His relationship with his father was full of conflict. His personal writings suggest that he experienced what we now call depression. Sound like the right atmosphere for faith to grow?
To me, it sounds like the world might have changed a lot over the past 500 years, but people experience the same struggles. Now, instead of writing a letter to the pope about it, we just use social media. Either way, it’s a necessary part of human experience to talk about it. We have to share our struggles somewhere.
We don’t just complain, though. Martin Luther points out that “trials and misfortunes” allowed him to taste the great power of faith. Once tasted, faith is like the best meal you ever ate—as impossible to forget as to stop talking about. Trials and misfortunes, suffering and loss: these are not the source of faith, but they can be the experiences that reveal it.
As Christians, we don’t get to skip over the trial and tribulation part of life. (Wouldn’t that be easier!) We do get to experience how faith strengthens us to endure the troubles that come our way. When those troubles come, we can remind ourselves and others of the sweet taste of faith that reassures us, strengthens us, and sustains us through it all. If you find yourself only complaining, that’s a good clue that it’s time to look for the faith that is being revealed in your struggle. The sweetness of faith can make even the bitterest experience palatable.
God, thank you for giving me faith. When I face trials and misfortunes, let the sweetness of faith sustain me against bitterness. Amen.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll reflect on other important ideas from “On the Freedom of a Christian,” which you can read in its entirety here: https://www.elca500.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Freedom-of-a-Christian_final-proof_3.17.20201.pdf