Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Talk about Suffering Part 3: Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer came up in a comment on Part 2. The following quotations on suffering are from his Letters and Papers from Prison (London: SCM, 1953). Notice, in the second quote, Bonhoeffer's denial that he was suffering, and, in the rest, the connection between suffering and life:
Christ avoided suffering until his hour had come, but when it did come he seized it with both hands as a free man and mastered it. Christ, as the Scriptures tell us, bore all our human sufferings in his own body as if they were his own--a tremendous thought--and submitted to them freely. Of course, we are not Christs, we do not have to redeem the world by any action or suffering of our own. There is no need for us to lay upon ourselves such an intolerable burden. We are not lords, but instruments in the hand of the Lord of history. Our capacity to sympathise with others in their sufferings is strictly limited. We are not Christs, but if we want to be Christians we must show something of Christ's breadth of sympathy by acting responsibly, by grasping our "hour," by facing danger like free men, by displaying a real sympathy which springs not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. To look on without lifting a helping hand is most un-Christian. The Christian does not have to wait until he suffers himself; the sufferings of his brethren for whom Christ died are enough to awaken his active sympathy. - p. 145 "After Ten Years" "Sympathy" (an essay written before his imprisonment)
This is my second passiontide here. People sometimes suggest in their letters that I am suffering here. Personally, I shrink from such a thought, for it seems a profanation of that word. . . . Frankly speaking, I sometimes feel almost ashamed to think how much we have talked about our own sufferings. Indeed, real suffering must be quite a different matter and have a quite different dimension, from anything I have experienced hitherto. - p. 80 (March 9, 1944)
To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of ascetism [sic.] (as a sinner, a penitent or a saint), but to be a man. 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. This is metanoia [repentance]. It is not in the first instance bothering about one's own needs, problems, sins, and fears, but allowing oneself to be caught up in the way of Christ, into the Messianic event, and thus fulfilling Isaiah 53....This being caught up into the Messianic suffering of God in Jesus Christ takes a variety of forms in the New Testament....All that is common between them is their participation in the suffering of God in Christ. That is their faith. There is nothing of religious asceticism here. The religious act is always something partial, faith is always something whole, an act involving the whole life. Jesus does not call men to a new religion, but to life. - p. 123 (July 18, 1944) still discovering up to this very moment that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to believe. One must abandon every attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, a converted sinner, a churchman (the priestly type, so-called!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. This is what I mean by worldliness-taking life in one's 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 into the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world and watch with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, that is metanoia, and that is what makes a man and a Christian (cf. Jeremiah 45). How can success make us arrogant or failure lead us astray, when we participate in the sufferings of God by living in this world? - p. 125 (July 21, 1944).

The only difference between the two Testaments at this point is that in the  Old the blessing also includes the cross, and in the New the cross also includes the blessing. To turn to a different point, not only action, but also suffering is a way to freedom. The deliverance consists in placing our cause unreservedly in the hands of God. Whether our deeds are wrought in faith or not depends on our realisation that suffering is the extension of action and the perfection of freedom. - 127 (July 28, 1944).

We must persevere in quiet meditation on the life, sayings, deeds, sufferings and death of Jesus in order to learn what God promises and what he fulfils. One thing is certain: we must always live close to the presence of God, for that is newness of life; and then nothing is impossible for all things are possible with God; no earthly power can touch us without his will, and danger can only drive us closer to him. We can claim nothing for ourselves, and yet we may pray for everything. Our joy is hidden in suffering, our life in death. But all through we are sustained in a wondrous fellowship. To all this God in Jesus has given his Yea and his Amen, and that is the firm ground on which we stand. - p. 130 (August 21, 1944).
Bonhoeffer was martyred on April 8, 1945.

No comments: