All posts by Pastor James

Dukkha Versus Anfechtung

When studying Buddhism, one word comes up repeatedly.  It is the word Dukkha. This word has a wide variety of meanings.  When studying Luther, one word also comes up frequently that has a wide variety of meanings.  It is the word Anfechtung.

Dukkha is often translated as suffering.  When the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha are discussed (see the blog post “The Aha Moments of Buddha and Luther”), the word Dukkha is translated as suffering.  Luther’s use of the word Anfechtung can also be considered to include the concept of suffering.  Both words involve much more than this.

In the Buddhist canon of teachings called the Tripitaka, the section called Sumyatta Nikaya contains a discourse of the Buddha called Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion (SN:56.11). We find these words of the Buddha trying to explain to his students what Dukkha is:

Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.[1]

Dukkha encompasses a much larger concept than just suffering.  Likewise, David P. Scaer in his article The Concept of Anfechtung in Luther’s Thought stated Luther’s use of the word Anfechtung can be translated into English as temptation, trial, affliction, and tribulation.[2]  Each of these words could include an element of suffering.  He then quoted from Paul Buehler, Die Anfichtungen hei Martin Luther the following definition of Anfechtung:

Through the Gospel the Christian has come to learn of a
gracious God in Christ Jesus; however his life experiences
present to him a God who is still wrathful and who not only
refuses to forgive sins, but reminds him of them. The hard,
concrete experiences of life contradict what he had learned
by faith. God on his side through the Anfechtungen
drawing the Christian closer to him and throughout the
Anfechtungen always intends that they should be beneficial
to the Christian. The Christian, however, interprets them as
forms of God’s retribution for sins and as signs of his wrath.
In desperation the Christian flees to Christ for salvation. In
this God has accomplished his purpose of bringing the
Christian closer to himself. Though the Christian can
through faith conquer one Anfechtung – and indeed he
must if he is to survive – he must face a lifelong series of
Anfechtungen. Resurrection is the only permanent solution.
Anfechtungen are an aspect of faith, not as that faith trusts in
God and totally relies on him for all good, but as that faith
faces realities in life and in the world different from those
offered in the Gospel?[3]

The Buddha goes on to explain in the same text the origin of Dukkha:

And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of Dukkha: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.[4]

According to the Buddha, Dukkha has its origin in emotions and desires of the person.  In other words, we are the source for own Dukkha.

Luther, on the other hand, saw Anfechtung as having an origin outside of ourselves.  Luther saw the main source of Anfechtung to be the devil.  The devil uses everything at his disposal to cause us to despair and turn our back on God.  We are attacked on three fronts.

God tempts no one.  We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.  Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.[5]

But even as we are attacked by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, Luther saw one mastermind behind these coordinated attacks: the devil.  Luther saw all unbelievers (those who do not believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior from sin) as being under the control of the devil.

The Buddha based his whole system on how to avoid Dukkha.  Points 3 & 4 of the Four Noble Truths state this:

3) The overcoming of suffering (To eliminate suffering, you must eliminate desire.)

4) The way leading to the suppression of suffering (The way to eliminate desire is to follow the 8-fold path.)

For the Buddha, Dukkha was not beneficial but rather harmful toward achieving enlightenment. It was only by eliminating Dukkha that true enlightenment could be achieved.

Luther viewed Anfechtung differently. Anfechtung was not pleasant to experience, just like Dukkha.  In contrast, Anfechtung was beneficial to the follower of Christ.  To quote Paul Buehler again:

God on his side through the Anfechtungen is
drawing the Christian closer to him and throughout the
Anfechtungen always intends that they should be beneficial
to the Christian. The Christian, however, interprets them as
forms of God’s retribution for sins and as signs of his wrath.
In desperation the Christian flees to Christ for salvation. In
this God has accomplished his purpose of bringing the
Christian closer to himself.[6]

Luther believed this because he believed Scripture (The Bible) to be God’s inerrant (without mistakes) Word.  Luther read passages like Romans 8:28 (GW) 28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God—those whom he has called according to his plan.

Because Luther believed that the Bible is God’s Word, he took at face value this passage.  He didn’t enjoy the Anfechtung, but he did see the benefit of it in his relationship to Christ. Luther’s experience taught him that the Buddha’s first Noble Truth, 1) The universality of suffering (All of life is suffering.) is true to the extent that while one lives here on earth, one cannot avoid Anfechtung.

Summary

Both Buddhism and Lutheranism employ words that are hard to translate into English because of their many different shades of meaning.

Dukkha for the Buddha was something painful.  It originates from within the person.  It is something to be avoided. His system was designed to eliminate it from one’s life.  Dukkha, according to the Buddha, is harmful regarding one’s enlightenment.

Anfechtung for Luther was something painful.  It originates from outside the person.  It cannot be avoided in this life.  But it can be beneficial for the Christian.  Anfechtung can draw one closer to God.  God can and does use even the painful things (Anfechtung) in one’s life to bring about a greater good.

[1] Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html#fn-1 https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html#fn-1  Note: Thanissaro Bhikkhu translated this from the Pali (the original language of the Buddha) and used the word stress for Dukkha.  I have replaced “stress” with the Pali word Dukkha.

[2] David P. Scaer, The Concept of Anfechtung in Luther’s Thought http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/scaeranfechtung.pdf  p 15.

[3] David P. Scaer, The Concept of Anfechtung in Luther’s Thought http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/scaeranfechtung.pdf  p 15-16.

[4] Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html#fn-1  Note: Thanissaro Bhikkhu translated this from the Pali (the original language of the Buddha) and used the word stress for Dukkha.  I have replaced “stress” with the Pali word Dukkha.

[5] Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. CPH 2005. p 20.  This is part of Luther’s Explanation to the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

[6] David P. Scaer, The Concept of Anfechtung in Luther’s Thought http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/scaeranfechtung.pdf  p 16.

 

The Aha Moments of the Buddha and Luther

The Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama achieving enlightenment

Siddhartha Gautama grew up a Hindu.  He believed in reincarnation.  He believed in the wheel of samsara (the endless cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth).  He wanted to be free of this curse.  He set out to live as a monk and discover the way to escape the endless cycles of birth and death.  Finally, he sat down under a tree and meditated for 40 days until he achieved enlightenment.  The title Buddha means “The Enlightened One.”  The Buddha based his teaching on his “Aha” moment known as the Four Noble Truths regarding suffering.

The Four Noble Truths

1) The universality of suffering (All of life is suffering.)

2) The origin of suffering (You suffer because you have unmet/wrong desire.)

3) The overcoming of suffering (To eliminate suffering, you must eliminate desire.)

4) The way leading to the suppression of suffering.  (The way to eliminate desire is to follow the 8-fold path.)

Martin Luther

Martin Luther studying the Bible

Martin Luther struggled with how to become right with God.  He grew up thinking that God was an angry God always looking to catch him in wrongdoing.  Luther was afraid of God.  He tried to do things that he felt would make God feel sorry for him.  One day he was studying his Bible when he read Romans 1:17 (ESV) 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  Luther had been taught that the righteousness of God meant that God proves His righteousness by punishing the sinner and the unjust.  But as Luther wrestled with this text, he came to realize that God is merciful and justifies us through faith.  Luther understood that God gives us the gift of faith in Jesus.  God also gives us the gift of being declared righteous on account of Jesus.  Our sins deserve God’s anger and punishment.  But God’s love for us is demonstrated in Jesus exchanging His righteousness for our unrighteousness.  God does for us what we are unable to do!

Comparing Buddha with Luther

October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg Church door.  I thought it might be interesting to compare the Buddha with Luther.  They have many similarities and, of course, contrasting points.  I will list the Buddha first as he lived before Luther.

1) Siddhartha Gautama was born between 623 B.C. and 560 B.C. in Lumbini located in what is now the country of Nepal.

2) Gautama was born into a royal family.

3) Gautama’s father had high hopes for Gautama to be a good king.

4) Gautama at age 29 saw the four visions and renounced his life and became a monk.

5) Gautama’s father disagreed with his decision to become a monk.

6) Gautama practiced asceticism in order to achieve enlightenment.  But he was unsuccessful.

7) Gautama finally meditated for 40 days on the Middle Path and achieved enlightenment.  He became known as the Buddha (“Enlightened One”).

8) The Buddha spent the next 45 years teaching his insights.

9) The Buddha reformed Hinduism and this became known as Buddhism.

10) The Buddha never wrote down any of his words.

11) The Buddha left his wife and newborn son in order to become a monk.

1) Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany.

2) Luther was born to peasants who were climbing the social ladder.

3) Luther’s father had high hopes for Luther to be a lawyer.

4) Luther at age 18 was caught in a storm and vowed to become a monk if he should survive.

5) Luther’s father disagreed with his decision to become a monk.

6) Luther lived a strict monastic life in order to please God.  But he was unsuccessful.

7) Luther began meditating on Romans 1:17 and realized that his salvation was not based on his own efforts but in faith in Christ’s efforts.

8) Luther spent the next 30 years teaching his insights.

9) Luther reformed Catholicism and this became known as Lutheranism.

10) Luther wrote and published many works.

11) Luther left being a monk and got married and had children.

These are just a few of the similarities and differences between the Buddha and Luther.  What others can you come up with?

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

 

Why Small Groups?

smallgroups

One of the practices that my wife Annette and I have is to read a portion Clifford-Harper-illustrat-007of scripture together right before we go to bed.  We have been doing this for years now and have read through the Bible a number of times.  We try to read a chapter at a time.  Sometimes the chapter is too long, or we are too tired for an entire chapter.  But we still read even a little bit before we pray together and turn off the lights.  I highly recommend doing this!  We learned this secret from Dr. & Mrs. Bunkowske while I was still studying at the seminary.

 

Currently we are reading through the Psalms.  Psalm 119 to be specific.  It will take us a few nights to get all the way through this Psalm.  But one thing that has struck me during our nightly reading of Psalm 119 is the Psalmist’s devotion to the word of God.  Psalm 119:1-2 says

 1 Blessed are those whose lives have integrity, those who follow the teachings of the LORD. 2Blessed are those who obey his written instructions. They wholeheartedly search for him. (GW)

The Psalmist says we are blessed if we search the scriptures.  Psalm 119 is a love song about God’s word.  How many of us have fallen in love with the word of God?    One reason tSearch_Scriptures1hat many of us struggle with loving the word of God is that we struggle with understanding it.  Many of us believe that you need a seminary education to properly understand the Bible.  But think about this, when god revealed His word to His prophets and apostles, how many seminaries were there?  How many seminary trained people were there?  God revealed His word to be spoken and read by the common person.  That means you and me.  (Yes, many times messages were for kings, but how many kings were well educated besides Solomon?)

 

We as a people have gotten out of the habit of Bible study.  We have become afraid of it.  We have even believed that it should be left to the professionals.  Starting in the month of October we are kicking off small groups at New Life.  We will spend just two months studying what it means to be church.  Our focus verse is Acts 2:42

42 The disciples were devoted to the teachings of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. (GW)

Why small groups?  Because there is strength in numbers.  If you are afraid or unsure how to study the Bible on your own, here is an opportunity to meet with others and learn together how to study.

 

Why small groups?  So that we can strengthen and encourage each other.  Proverbs 27:17 17[As] iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens the wits of another. These groups are designed to help you hone your Bible study skills.  They are also designed so that you can be encouraged as well as encourage others as together you study what God says about being His church.

 

Haven’t signed up for a study yet?  Check out our Facebook page to see days and times.    Can’t find a day/time that meets your schedule?  Contact me about starting a new group.  I think that once you start studying the Bible you will be like the writer of Psalm 119.  You will fall in love with God’s word all over again!

Click Below:

JoinAsmallGroup

 

Christ’s slave,

Pastor Jim

5 Reasons Why You Should Have Regular Family Devotions

sf_footCross_03

 

Is your family having regular family devotions?  If you are like many families, this is a question you don’t like to think about.  On the one hand you know you should have family devotions.  On the other hand this is a habit that you have not cultivated.  Perhaps you feel overwhelmed by family member schedules.  Or you have never experienced family devotions so you do not know why you should have them.   Well here are 5 reasons why you should have family devotions: Continue reading 5 Reasons Why You Should Have Regular Family Devotions