With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Q: Your column about returning service personnel suggested that we should not be measuring faith, as in “if your faith were stronger, you wouldn’t have these struggles.” I am a church worker and numerous people have told me that if I had a stronger faith, I would not be depressed. This has made me worry, including about my eternal salvation. I fight the depression with counseling and medication, but worry that even these things hide the fact that I might not have enough faith to be saved. Your column suggested that my worry might not be in the right place. Please comment.
Q: Could faith be measured? I’d like to know if I have enough faith for salvation.
Q: I am a pastor. There are times when my anxiety gets the better of me. I have been worried that this is a sign that my faith is weak. After all, “let not your hearts be troubled.” Several of my brother pastors have told me that I should trust God more, which would cause me not to be so anxious; and that if I cannot do that, there is something amiss with my spiritual life and my faith. I am anxious even more when the question of the strength of my faith comes up.
Q: Our early-20s child has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. A couple of my friends say that if our faith and our child’s faith were stronger, this could be cured. The ability of faith to move mountains suggests to our friends that our faith is not strong enough to move this mountain. We are really struggling with this. What if this is true? Then our (my wife’s and my) faith and — even more chillingly, that of our child — is not enough for either this life or the next.
A: These are samples of letters that I have received following the two previous columns about returning service personnel.
Frankly, my heart breaks as I consider the effect of trying to measure the strength of faith in the lives of our readers. This is the very issue Martin Luther was struggling with that eventually brought about the Reformation. “What do I need to do to be saved?” is not far from “Do I have enough faith to be saved?”
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith …” (Luther’s Small Catechism).
Saving faith is an act of God … without our merit, good works, or measurement of its strength. It is strong because our God is strong, not because we are.
When I have felt my faith tested and struggles in my own life have brought me to questions similar to our readers, God’s Holy Spirit returns me again and again to the places where faith is assured — to the foot of the cross and to the openness of the empty tomb. These are God’s gifts in Christ. I am also turned to the Eucharist and the Word, neither of which is produced by my works.
LCMS World Relief/Human Care has recently made available “Clergy Mental Health and the Doctrine of Justification,” by the sainted Dr. Robert Preus. This is an article I have used for more than 20 years and return to again and again on this subject. Call (800) 248-1930, Ext. 1381, to request a free copy.
To all those folks who may be inclined to make judgments concerning the strength of the faith of others, I implore you to rethink this opinion and way of speaking. I believe it is very unhelpful and is actually contrary to what we Lutherans believe. Other readers may want to chime in concerning this theme.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted June 1, 2007