A Reflection Inspired by Bonhoeffer

Sinfonia
February 16, 2012
Meditation on Psalm 70
February 28, 2012

If Dietrich Bonhoeffer had written as soberly on fear as he did on ethics, we might have known a different view of the world, or at least of Christianity. Ethics he was able to observe and analyze, but fear he did not have the luxury to experience—and then, when it was over, examine.

But I believe that the great Bonhoeffer would have no doubt seen difficulty and pain in a different light than we know it. It was he who said that each of us must examine our lives and our circumstances constantly to know the will of God. For God’s will in one moment is not God’s will in the next.

Nonetheless, it is God’s will we follow. So, too, with pain and difficulty. Their degrees differ and their severities vary, but there is one constant truth of which we must always remind ourselves: that our pain and difficulty come not from the endurance of an act itself, but rather, of knowing that whatever it is we endure, it is against our will and according to the will of God. In essence then, pain might well be known as relinquishing complete control to God.

I think this, too, becomes a point at which we reconsider Jesus’ admonition to the apostles when he tells them not to concern themselves with food and shelter. “God will provide,” was his message. The observation being that the apostles, as model human beings, rested first on physical survival and second on the holy message of God. But what Jesus meant was simply that the will of God for us is not to be considered after this or that, not before breakfast or after dinner, or when we are properly washed. It is now. This very moment, in whatever state we are. It is understanding that God omnipotent and God omniscient knows far better than we what it is we need for survival. And, more than that, that whatever we think we need for survival may not mesh with what God has in mind.

As Bonhoeffer was taken to the gallows, I have no doubt he felt fear. It is a human emotion, and nothing to condemn. But there is comfort in knowing that whatever one suffers in fear it is because we have lost control of ourselves and turned our lives over to another power. In that moment, it may seem like the power which controls us—the Nazis, for one—is chaotic evil, and in no way capable of seeing to our needs. But God’s will is larger than the moment and larger than our suffering; the greatest peace comes through the gift of grace, that we may rest in the hands of God.

What is it Jesus said on the cross? “Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit.”

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