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I keep returning to Bonhoeffer in these times.

“Dear Eberhard,

It’s your birthday in a week’s time. Once again I’ve taken up the readings and meditated on them. The key to everything is the ‘in him’. All that we may rightly expect from God, and ask him for, is to be found in Jesus Christ. The God of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with what God, as we imagine him, could do and ought to do. If we are to learn what God promises, and what he fulfills, we must persevere in quiet meditation on the life, sayings, deeds, sufferings, and death of Jesus. It is certain that we may always live close to God and in the light of his presence, and that such living is an entirely new life for us; that nothing is then impossible for us, because all things are possible with God; that no earthly power can touch us without his will, and that that danger and distress can only drive us closer to him. It is certain that we can claim nothing for ourselves, and may yet pray for everything; it is certain that our joy is hidden in suffering, and our life in death; it is certain that in all this we are in a fellowship that sustains us. In Jesus God has said Yes and Amen to it all, and that Yes and Amen is the firm ground on which we stand.

In these turbulent times we repeatedly lose sight of what really makes life worth living. We think that, because this or that person is living, it make sense for us to live too. But the truth is that if this earth was good enough for the man Jesus Christ, if such a man as Jesus lived, then our life would be meaningless, in spite of all the other people whom we know and honour and love. Perhaps we now sometimes forget the meaning and purpose of our profession. But isn’t this the simplest way of putting it? The unbliblical idea of ‘meaning’ is indeed only a translation of what the Bible calls ‘promise’.

I feel how inadequate these words are to express my wish, namely to give you steadfastness and joy and certainty in your loneliness. This lonely birthday need not be a lost day, if it helps to determine more clearly the convictions on which you will base your life in time to come. I’ve often found it a great help to think in the evening of all those who I know are praying for me, children as well as grown-ups. I think I owe it to the prayers of others, both known and unknown, that i have often been kept in safety.

Another point: we are often told in the New Testament to ‘be strong’ (I Cor. 16:13; Eph. 6:10; II Tim. 2:1; I John 2:14). Isn’t people’s weakness (stupidity, lack of independence, forgetfulness, cowardice, vanity, corruptibility, temptability, etc.) a greater danger than evil? Christ not only makes people ‘good’; he makes them strong, too. The sins of weakness are the really human sins, whereas the willful sins are diabolical (and no doubt ‘strong’, too!). I must think about this again. Good-bye; keep well, and don’t lose confidence. I hope we shall celebrate Renate’s birthday together again. Thank you for everything. I keep thinking faithfully of you. ”

Letters from Prison, page 391-92.

Quick Reflections:

What does Bonhoeffer mean when he says that the “truth is that if this earth was good enough for the man Jesus Christ, if such a man as Jesus lived, then our life would be meaningless”? I don’t understand that bit. There are billions of people who live on without knowledge of J.C., and they seem to get on well enough. At least from the outside. How and why is life meaningless? Perhaps the finality of death renders all things vain?

Bonhoeffer encourages us to meditate on Jesus – his life, teachings, and especially his death. I notice that he somehow forgets to mention his resurrection. Why did you fail to mention the most important part of that story? Is Jesus a man – even the best – to follow as an example? Or is he the son of God? The fulfiller of God’s promise?

What is that promise, by the way? I love Bonhoeffer’s way of putting it – what we really mean by our unbiblical search for meaning really translates into search and fulfillment of God’s promise. Promise of life. Of Spirit. Of love. Of salvation from enemies, sickness, physical and spiritual death. Jesus is the ultimate for-the-other. But isn’t this all abstract?

And the truth is, at the end of the day, we are weak and long for someone to hold your hand. I don’t want a for-other god. I want joy complete.

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