Self-Inflicted Wounds

William Manchester’s excellent memoir of the Pacific War, Goodbye, Darkness ought to be read by anyone who thinks he knows of the horrors of war or actually does know of them. He reports that shooting yourself in the foot was a court-martial offense (258) because it was a way to get out of combat. Christians inflict themselves with wounds that only get them deeper and darker into spiritual combat.

Luther says, “For where there is lust, sadness of heart, fear of death, and the like, there the Law and sin are still present; there Christ is not yet present” (LW 26, 350). But what do we do?  Lust, sadness, or fear appear and we inflict ourselves with the Law rather than flee to Christ for the forgiveness and relief promised there.  And as Paul says the Law causes sin to multiply.  So treating lust with, “Thou shalt not lust,” and sadness with, “Rejoice in everything,” and fear with “Why are you such a coward?’ actually increases the lust, the sadness, the cowardice.

This Joseph did not do.  When repeatedly propositioned by his master’s wife, he did not apply the Law which would have only increased any lust he might have been feeling.  He applied the Gospel.  “How can I do such great wickedness and sin against God” who has done so much for me?

“Where there is lust, sadness of heart, fear of death, and the like, there the Law and sin are still present; there Christ is not yet present.”  Therefore, when we find these things in us it is a sure indication that we’re under the Law and Christ is absent.  Rather than beat ourselves up – to use the psychobabble vernacular – we are to say, “I am standing outside of Christ under the weight of a Law I cannot bear. I will run to Christ in my Baptism.  I will flee to Christ in my Absolution.  I will retreat to His Body and Blood given and shed for me.”

Lusting, despairing, fearing aren’t to be treated with more Law but more Gospel.  If we inflict ourselves with more Law, these will only increase.  Far from delivering us from the spiritual combat, shooting ourselves with more Law only intensify the fighting. The truth is we’re fighting a war which we cannot win, and Christ has won already. As the great hymn “Salvation unto us has Come” sings, “The Law no peace can ever give, / No comfort and no blessing.” No power, no healing, no help might also be added.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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