The fierce storms that rolled through our Houston area neighborhood last night, with more thunder and lightning than I can ever remember hearing and seeing, made me think of him. For it was on a hot summer’s day in 1505 that a twenty-one-year-old university student in Germany found himself unexpectedly caught in a similar storm while on the open road from his home back to school. And, as his classical biographer, Roland Bainton, long ago wrote, in a single flash of sudden lightning his life was changed forever:
“There was God the all-terrible, Christ the inexorable, and all the leering fiends springing from their lurking places in pond and wood that with sardonic cachinnations they might seize his shock of curly hair and bolt him into hell,” as Bainton so colorfully expressed it. And in response, that student cried out to the patron saint of miners, saying, “Saint Anne, help me! I will become a monk.”
To be sure, given the circumstances, he probably could have been absolved of that hasty vow. His father, in fact, was deeply angry about the decision, having planned a different and far more lucrative career for his brilliant son. But Martin Luther believed himself to be under divine constraint and so within two weeks he arrived at the door of an Augustinian monastery to “take the cowl” and present himself as a novice.
And true to form, Luther plunged into his new vocation vociferously. For it is said that he positively wore out his confessor by appearing so frequently before him–sometimes multiple visits in one day– to seek absolution from almost everything he either thought or did. But Luther was simply looking for an answer to the hunger in his heart that his encounter along his own road to Damascus had awakened, namely, how to be justified in the eyes of a righteous God.
We know now, of course, that the answer for him came not in a confessional booth but in a conscious study of God’s Word that led him to understand for the first time the meaning of God’s grace. It was not penitence that was needed, but repentance, and when he discovered that idea of justification by faith—sola fide–he began a revolution that was to change the world.
Nothing quite so dramatic came out of the Texas storms last night, I suspect. But they too were a reminder that whenever we may write off God in deference to all of our human wisdom, or even artificial intelligence, the Creator of the Universe has a way of rumbling back into our lives and reminding us of just how powerful He really is.
It’s no wonder that centuries after Luther, the largely self-taught son of a slave and captivating preacher, Charles Tindley, summed it up in one of his best known hymns by writing simply these words: “when the storms of life are raging, stand by me…in the midst of tribulation, stand by me… when the hosts of hell assail, and my strength begins to fail, Thou who never lost a battle, stand by me.”
Words worth remembering perhaps the next time an unexpected storm or sudden bolt of lightning may strike in your own life, too.
Sometimes it takes one of these bolts to wake us up. As did the one that seemingly struck 50 feet from our house. Thanks for another great story.
We really miss you and your sermons, but grateful to still receive a message like today’s. Blessings and have a wonderful weekend!
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My new goal in life is to use the phrase, “sardonic cachinnations” in a conversation.
Good luck with that, Mark!
Dr. Chap, thanks for another great post. It reminded me of Paul Harvey who used to tell: “the rest of the story”. Enjoy this beautiful weather today and thank you God for much needed rain. Blessings, Marilynn Scanlin
thank you dear Brother friend
Rev. Heidi McGinness firstname.lastname@example.org 720-984-4488
How many times we perhaps hear from God but overlook His words as they are overcome by the constant noise of our day. Open our ears, Lord, and let us recognize that true voice of You, our maker!