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Musings and Memories

A Mighty Fortress is our God

Doug Dezotell
Posted 5/28/22

Raised in a predominantly Scandinavian community in North Dakota was wonderful. Of course it was all I knew.

I was also raised in a religious home, a Christian home. My Norwegian mother was raised …

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Musings and Memories

A Mighty Fortress is our God

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(The last episode in a series for National Mental Health Awareness Month)

Raised in a predominantly Scandinavian community in North Dakota was wonderful. Of course it was all I knew.

I was also raised in a religious home, a Christian home. My Norwegian mother was raised in Lutheran Church by her Norwegian immigrant parents. And my father (half French and half Norwegian) was raised Catholic by his French mother.

The decision was made early on that the Dezotell children would be raised Lutheran. And it is what we knew growing up.

I was what would be considered a “good Lutheran boy.” I was baptized Lutheran as an infant, dedicated to the Lord, raised attending Sunday school every week, then into the sanctuary for worship services.

I was involved in the youth program, confirmed in the 9th grade, sang with the youth choir, and traveled the country with the drama and choir groups.

We studied and memorized Luther’s Small Catechism, and we heard about the founder of the Lutheran Movement, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, all of our lives.

It wasn’t until I was in Bible College and studied Church History that I really learned who Martin Luther was.

The great man was a 16th century German Catholic priest, a parish pastor, a college professor with numerous degrees, including a Doctor of Theology.

Luther was a theologian, a prolific hymnwriter, and a Bible translator, translating the Latin Bible into German, making it accessible to the common person.

And the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther was also a protestor who sought to reform certain aspects of the Roman Catholic Church.

Due to his protests and a desire for reformation, Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Church by the Pope, but he stayed at the University of Wittenberg and taught theology and Bible courses for the rest of his career.

One thing that most people don’t know about the founder of the Lutheran Church, and one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, was the fact that he suffered with depression and anxiety for most of his life.

Luther struggled with his fear that he was not good enough to be forgiven by God, which only added to his depression.

He prayed and studied the Word of God incessantly, looking for help from above and within. Yet even with his personal struggles, he was able to continue his very successful public ministry and compassionate pastoral care.

Given his pastor’s heart, Luther sought to bring spiritual counsel to struggling souls in his parish and in his university responsibilities.

In the “Aquila Report,” May 17, 2016, Allan Adams wrote this about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther: “Luther himself endured many instances of depression. He described the experience in varied terms: melancholy, heaviness, depression, dejection of spirit; downcast, sad, downhearted. He suffered in this area for much of his life and often revealed these struggles in his works. Evidently he did not think it a shameful problem to be hidden.”

Many people in Luther’s day thought mental illness of any kind was brought on by demonic possession, and persons who suffered with these types of afflictions and diseases needed to be hidden away, or at least it needed to be kept hush-hush, and not spoken about.

There are still people today, almost 500 years later, who feel this way. But mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, any more than physical illnesses are.

As Adams wrote about Luther’s depression, “Evidently he did not think it a shameful problem to be hidden.”

At United Lutheran Church, my home church up North, we sang many of Martin Luther’s hymns. My favorite has always been “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

This hymn was originally written in German of course, and it is a celebration of Father God’s awesome power.

The song showcases Luther’s belief that God’s power can help all believers overcome great difficulties—even depression and other forms of mental illness.

With the compassionate heart of a pastor, Luther sought to bring spiritual counsel to struggling souls as often as he could.

His compassion for people that were hurting could be seen in his sermons, his lectures at university, and in his Bible commentaries and his other writings. He was also known for writing numerous letters to counsel other struggling people.

The Apostle Paul wrote in II Corinthians 1: 3-5… “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ (unto others).”

Luther took Paul’s words to heart. He received comfort from God time and time again, compassion through his times of stress, anxiety and depression. And then having received these gifts from God, Luther was able to show compassion and bring comfort to those who struggled like he had.

Looking at Luther’s writings reveals that he had personal knowledge of other people’s emotional and mental difficulties.

One example took place in August of 1536 when he ministered to a Mrs. Kreuzbinder, whom Luther said was “insane.”

He described Mrs. Kreuzbinder as being “accustomed to rage” and “sometimes angrily chasing her neighbor with a spear.”

Luther’s wife, Kate, a former Catholic nun, struggled with persistent worry, which today would probably referred to as ‘generalized anxiety disorder.’

Another person that Luther ministered to and wrote about was the German Prince Joachim of Anhalt. This prominent ruler and friend of Luther’s battled deep melancholy and depression. The Prince had told Luther that he “believed he had betrayed and crucified Christ.”

Another friend and fellow pastor, Conrad Cordatus, Luther wrote “exhibited signs of severe hypochondriasis,” which is a disorder involving constant fear of having various serious diseases.

Luther wrote to his friend, “We shall make our way through glory and shame, through good report and evil report, through hate and love, through friends and foes, until we arrive where there are none but friends, in the Kingdom of the Father.”

As a mentioned earlier I have always loved Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God;” it’s a powerful celebration of God’s awesome power for us in our times of need.

It showcases Luther’s belief that God’s power can help all believers overcome great difficulties—even depression and other forms of mental illness.

With the compassionate heart of a pastor, Luther sought to bring spiritual counsel to struggling souls even in his hymns.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal. Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the Right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who That may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth, His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle. And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.

That Word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth; the Spirit and the gifts are ours, thru Him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.

(Martin Luther, 1529, known as ‘The Battle Hymn of the Reformation’)

Please remember that I am praying for you.

May God’s richest blessings be poured out upon you today.

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