Here even the greatest minds have stumbled and fallen, denying the existence of God and imagining that all things are moved at random by blind Chance or Fortune" ("The Bondage of the Will" in Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings, edited by Timothy F. Lull; Fortress, 1989, page 222).
I love Mother Julian's mantra: "All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well." The 14th century English mystic spent her years in a small room attached to Norwich Cathedral, taking communion through a hatch in the sanctuary wall. Is her optimism an evasion of our painful human situation?
Shakespeare's Hamlet insists: "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." Last Sunday a friend said, "I read your Lutheran column first thing. What a depressing topic!" She was right. If we overfocus on suffering, the danger is that all life becomes trouble. But Julian of Norwich is right too: "All shall be well." This year I have rediscovered something I've long known: True joy can't arise until our suffering and dying are on the table before us for sober examination. As Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard had it: "We cannot begin to live until we are willing to will our own death."
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