Writings by Cole Huffman


Anfechtung Baby

I’m enjoying Timothy George’s Reading Scripture with the Reformers. He’s introduced me to Martin Luther’s “Three Rules” for scriptural engagement: prayer, meditation, and temptation, a pattern Luther based on Psalm 119. The German word Luther chose for temptation, Anfechtung, comes from the sport of fencing. A Fechter is a fencer or gladiator, and Anfechtung roughly references bouts of spiritual attack.

Every believer experiences conflict with dread, despair, anxiety, internally and via Satan’s schemes. These conflicts constitute temptations in their own right, temptations to doubt, to distrust, to curse God and die (HT: Job’s wife). The most important way we fight Anfechtung is Scripture of course, not just reading it but reading our conflicts in light of the conflicts of God’s people across time as found in Scripture. Or as Bono crooned in U2’s hit song “One” (Achtung Baby, 1991), we play Jesus to the lepers in our heads.

Who among the people of God hasn’t had troubles? Anfechtung, baby! Most of the Bible was written in contexts of hostility and harm. The languishment of spiritual attack (Anfechtung) is as old as Job and constant as time. It is usual for God’s people to meet disappointments and counsel fears and despair in ourselves and each other.

Take parenting. The one thing I want most for my children is for each one to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love their neighbors as they love themselves. I want that smack-dab in the middle of their vertical and horizontal axis of life. I can influence this developmentally but can’t control or guarantee it, and this sets me up for despairing moments in parenting, times it seems like the conscientious efforts I make to impart belief is met with “appropriaphobia”—the fear of appropriating one’s parents’ convictions. (I made up the word.) That leper in my head is hard to cleanse.

I turn to Scripture and read of David’s struggles with his children. But increasingly I read of David’s poor parenting less critically, more compassionately. Parenting has its hard parts for us all no matter the era you live in or the quality of your kids or your domestic skill set. That’s not to say I don’t learn from David some things not to do as a dad. But if the man after God’s own heart looked behind him and saw his sons avoiding God’s heart, more is going on there heart-level than Dad could control. Anfechtung, baby!

Or take pastoring. I was told once a pastor lasts at his post about as long as he’s willing to tolerate the gap between what God wants for His people and what they want for themselves. That might be a tinge cynical but there’s truth in the germ of it nonetheless. Writing a sermon recently on forgiveness, I kept fending off the thought that no one’s really going to do anything with this instruction. My people hear annually about their need to forgive, thank me for it, and yet keep dragging their same old grudges through another year. When does it change? The preacher begins to think what he does is as empty as Branson, Missouri without a Guy Penrod Gospel Showcase Dinner Theater.

I turn to Scripture and read of Paul’s struggles in getting the Galatians to get the gospel. But I come at it now less a miner seeking expository jewels for my preaching, more a member of a fellowship of shared sufferings. Pastoring has its hard points even if you lead a great church like mine. But if no less than the apostle to the Gentiles found one of his flagship churches flagging on doctrine in life then I will too at times. Were there not ten lepers cleansed—where are the nine? Anfechtung, baby!

And so it goes in any stream of life susceptible to flooding. But we don’t delete these bouts with spiritual attack. We store them in the cloud—the great cloud of witnesses Hebrews says surrounds us. These witnesses are who we read about in Scripture. When those gone before us were here they met disappointments and counseled fears, but also turned around to see goodness and mercy following them all the days of their lives. And now they dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The lepers in their heads entirely cleansed.

“Please help me to get down under things and find where You are” (from Flannery O’Connor’s recently published Prayer Journal).

Posted by Cole Huffman at 7:11 PM
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