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WHEN LIGHTNING STRUCK! Review by Melanie Reynolds

Danika Cooley
Thinking Kids Press
P.O. Box 2084
Beaverton, OR 97075

Who was Martin Luther?

Most of us know him as the German father of the Reformation movement in Europe. If pressed, we might recall that he nailed ninety-five theses, or statements of Christian faith, to the door of the Wittenberg church. Yet there is so much more to this controversial man’s life that will come as a surprise to many. Author Danika Cooley, in her historical novel for teens, has brought the story of Luther the man, as well as the reformer and theologian, to vivid and striking life. My family and I received WHEN LIGHTNING STRUCK! in hardback form for the purposes of review. 

It’s difficult to imagine the brutal world in which Luther was born, lived, and died. Picture a world where sanitation is irregular or nonexistent; where many babies struggle to survive; where superstition is rampant; where ignorance and illiteracy are the norm. In 1483 Europe, most lived under these conditions, where life was a struggle each and every day.

Now, add to these arduous living conditions an absolute terror of God; and utter hopelessness and confusion regarding an individual’s chance for salvation. If you’ve got all of this in your mind, you’ll have a sense of what Luther’s world was like.

Martin Luther’s parents planned for him to become a lawyer and marry a wealthy woman from their town. Yet as he walked the fifty miles one day from his parents’ home to the University of Erfurt, a torrential storm blew upon him, complete with terrifying thunder and lightning. Martin wondered if the storm was God’s way of communicating His displeasure with Martin’s choice of profession. Could he possibly receive salvation in the worldly profession of a lawyer? When lightning seemed to chase him down the road and then struck the tree he was hiding under, tossing Martin to the ground, he cried out, “Saint Anna, help me! I will become a monk!”

And so began his years as a monk. Brilliant and sharp-tongued, he brought to the priesthood a trained mind that caused him to examine and question the doctrines of the Catholic Church. Yet the more he learned, the more uncertain he was that he’d ever be able to work hard enough to earn his own salvation. For this was the doctrine of the era: the purchase of indulgences to shorten one’s time in purgatory; confessing sins over and over; never knowing if one was really saved; and for Martin and other monks, fasting and poverty. Regardless of how much Martin did, he was ever burdened with the deep knowledge of his own sinfulness and his own unworthiness. So he worked harder and harder.

One day, his prior offered him a Bible. Martin was overjoyed. Ever since he’d seen one chained to a desk in a school library, and had read the story of Hannah and Samuel, he had longed for this precious book, rare and difficult to find. Yet, this Bible did not become part of his priestly studies, which focused on the writings of theologians. Rather, he pored over it for hours in the time he had alone. The more he read, though, the more his dissatisfaction with himself grew.

God was at work even as Martin despaired. The Bible began informing him over and above the words of the theologians; even disputing them. A priest told him that God required nothing from Martin, only that he should love Him. And finally, when he visited Rome and crawled on his knees up marble stairs, stopping and praying at every step, he was struck by a thought in his mind, “The just shall live by faith.” Returning to Germany, the words appeared again and again in Martin’s mind, as he continued to study the Bible. And one day, the light shone in Martin’s darkness, as he cried, “It is by grace I am saved through the faith that He gives!”

This New Theology that Martin began to preach and share with others was only the beginning. He was dismayed and angered at the sale of indulgences and the church’s teaching on salvation by works. His personal crusade began.  The work of one man, filled with the Holy Spirit, taught by the Word of God, transformed the spiritual landscape of the age and opened the way for the creation of the Protestant church.

Martin Luther’s story doesn’t end there. Danika Cooley’s comprehensive research, and her ability to tell a compelling and highly readable story, presents the story of the chief architect of the Protestant Reformation, and his enormous, and irreplaceable, contribution. One man’s life work opened the doors for the common man to clearly understand the way of salvation—truly and only through faith by grace.

WHEN LIGHTNING STRUCK! is available as a hardback book (for $16.99), as well as in e-book form (for $10.99). It is an ideal addition to a family’s read-aloud times (especially for older children and teens), to homeschool studies, or for a teen’s personal reading. I had planned to use it as a homeschool read-aloud for my 13-year-old son, but felt after reading the first few chapters that it might be more appropriate for him in another couple of years, as we study church history.  I do believe, however, that Cooley’s book is a real key to understanding the Reformation and its place in the timeline of history. It’s incredibly well-researched, and an exciting (while sometimes shocking) story to read. Don’t miss this excellent retelling of the life and times of Martin Luther!

—Product review by Melanie Reynolds, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March, 2016