When Lightning Struck: The Story of Martin Luther was written by Danika Cooley and published by Fortress Press (2015). This historical novel on the life of Martin Luther, the German theologian credited with starting the Reformation movement in the 1500s, is impressive. Danika Cooley works hard to combine storytelling with historical fact, weaving period details into narrative and quotes from historical documents into dialog. The book does an excellent job of making history accessible to the reader.
It begins when Luther, on his way to law school, scurries under a large tree for protection during a thunderstorm. Lightning strikes the tree, raining down fiery debris around him, and Luther vows that if he survives he will become a priest.
Martin’s father, a successful businessman, is a strict man whom Martin equally fears and loves. His mother tells him tales of superstition and myth. His father has sent him to school to become a lawyer so the boy will be able to support them in their old age.
When Luther tells his family and friends that he is changing professions, they are stunned and angry. They try to dissuade him, but Martin enters a monastery. He works his way up, through study and self-discipline, to priest, Doctor of Theology, and university professor.
Luther is pursued by a sense of guilt and the fear of an angry God. He fasts himself into gauntness, sleeps on the cold stone floor of his cell, and confesses sins constantly. He is consumed with hopelessness at his inability to shorten the time after death that he expects to spend in purgatory before entering the realm of heaven.
A mentor gives Luther a copy of the Bible. In it, Martin Luther begins to see glimmers of God’s love and grace. He spends hours studying it and teaching from it to his students.
Sent on a trip to Rome, Luther is shocked by the sin and luxury he sees among the priests and nuns there. He also finds little comfort in the holy sites he visits and the holy relics he views.
After this he discovers in scripture that salvation comes by faith alone. He also begins to see God as a source of love. He teaches this “New Theology” in his classes and writes about it.
When the buying of indulgences to shorten one’s time in purgatory or to purchase forgiveness from sins begins to empty the pockets of his poor neighbors, Luther writes a list of objections to their sale and posts it in his town—Wittenberg—for local debate. A printer makes copies and sends them far and wide, creating shock waves across the Roman Catholic Church.
Luther tries to bring change within the Roman Catholic Church, but arguments between him and its leaders become so strident that Luther and the leaders break with one another. The Protestant Reformation begins with sweeping changes to the priesthood, to forms of worship, and to theological teaching across Germany. Luther’s personal life is transformed as he works out what biblical teachings mean for himself and the society in which he lives.
This dramatized biography describes a man who transformed Christendom by his teaching, writing, Bible translation, song compositions, and the very force of his life. Yet it also paints a picture of personal struggles and flawed character. It shows the life journey of one trying to balance the spiritual and secular powers of his time, as we all do.
Approximately 250 pages, this book is best for Young Adult readers. It is sold on Christianbook.com and Amazon.com in hardcover and e-book formats.
Donna Fujimoto is a graduate of Alliance Theological Seminary. She has published both devotionals for adults and short stories for teens. Her children love to read.
Mrs. Fujimoto has a collection of short stories, 9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge, available as an e-reader at Amazon. Find our review under “N” in the alphabetical listing: Titles We’ve Reviewed.