An Excerpt from Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison

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Is there any concern in the Old Testament about saving one’s soul at all? Is not righteousness and the kingdom of God on earth the focus of everything, and is not Romans 3:14 too, the culmination of the view that in God alone is righteousness, and not in an individualistic doctrine of salvation? It is not with the next world that we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved and set subject to laws and atoned for and made new. . .

Barth was the first theologian to begin the criticism of religion. . . but he set in place the positivist doctrine of revelation which says, in effect, “Take it or leave it”: Virgin Birth, Trinity, or anything else, everything which is an equally significant and necessary part of the whole, which latter has to be swallowed as a whole or not at all. That is not in accordance with the Bible. . .

It is a long way back to the land of childhood

But if we only knew the way!

There isn’t any such way, at any rate not at the cost of deliberately abandoning our intellectual maturity. . . God is teaching us that we must live as humans who can get along very well without God. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. The God who makes us live in this world without using God as a working hypothesis is the god before whom we are standing. Before God and with God we live without God. God allows Himself to be edged out of the world and on to the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which God can be with us and help us. Matthew 8:17 (he took up our infirmities, and bore the burden of our sins) makes it crystal clear that it is not by his omnipotence that Christ helps us, but by his weakness and suffering.

This is the decisive difference between Christianity and all religions. Man’s religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world; he uses God as a deus ex machina. The Bible, however, directs us to the powerlessness and suffering of God; only a suffering God can help. To this extent we may say that the process we have described by which the world came of age was an abandonment of the false conception of God, and a clearing of the decks for the God of the Bible, who conquers power and space in the world by his weakness. . .

Humans are challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. One must therefore plunge oneself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or trying to transform it. . . To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism. . . but to be a human being. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.. . .

During the last year, I have come to appreciate the “worldliness” of Christianity as never before. . . I don’t mean the shallow this-worldliness of the enlightened, of the busy, the comfortable or the lascivious. It’s something much more profound than that, something in which the knowledge of death and resurrection is ever present. . . One must abandon every attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, a converted sinner, a churchman . . . This is what I mean by worldliness-taking life in stride, with all its duties and problems, its successes and failures, its experiences and helplessness. It is in such a life that we throw ourselves utterly in the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world and watch with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, and that is what makes a human and a Christian.

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