16 August 2008

letters and papers

Last month, I mentioned how I’ve been reading (again) Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. In the book, as well as in his good friend Eberhard Bethge’s biography, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we see how an upper middle class German struggles with his faith when confronted by the brazen assaults of Hitler and the Nazi Party. On the day after the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life (which Bonhoeffer supported), we read this in a letter to his friend Eberhard (it’s dated 21 July 1944):

“…it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities…That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia [repentance]; and that is how one becomes a [human] and a Christian.”

Bonhoeffer said only a little more about what he meant by “this-worldly” Christianity. He was executed before he could develop his thoughts in detail. Many along the theological spectrum, from conservative to liberal, claim him as part of their heritage. To me, that only speaks of how true to the path of Christ he was. He was aware of his weaknesses; you can see that in some of his letters. His decision to cast his lot in with the conspirators against Hitler continued to weigh on his mind.

I like something he says toward the end of this letter. I think it speaks to us well today. “May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but above all, may he lead us to himself.”

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