Inspirations: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) - Professor, Pastor, Martyr

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“The proper education of preachers of the gospel is worthy of our ultimate commitment." Finkenwalde Circular Letter from, April 1942

“Who is God? Not primarily a general belief in God’s omnipotence, and so on. That is not a genuine experience of God but just a prolongation of a piece of the world. Encounter with Jesus Christ. Experience that here there is a reversal of all human existence, in the very fact that Jesus only ‘is there for others.’ Jesus’s ‘being-there-for-others’ is the experience of transcendence! 

Only through this liberation from self, through this ‘being-for-others’ unto death, do omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence come into being. Faith is participating in this being of Jesus… Our relationship to God is no ‘religious’ relationship to some highest, most powerful, and best being imaginable – that is no genuine transcendence. Instead, our relationship to God is a new life in ‘being there for others,’ through participation in the being of Jesus. The transcendent is not the infinite, unattainable tasks, but the neighbor within reach in any given situation.” Prison writings, April 1944

“The church is church only when it is there for others… The church must participate in the worldly tasks of life in the community – not dominating but helping and serving. It must tell people in every calling what a life with Christ is, what it means ‘to be there for others.’ In particularly, our church will have to confront the vices of hubris, the worship of power, envy, and illusionism as the roots of all evil. It will have to speak of moderation, authenticity, trust, faithfulness, steadfastness, patience, discipline, humility, modesty, contentment. It will have to see that it does not underestimate the significance of the human ‘example,’ which has its origin in the humanity of Jesus and is so important in Paul’s writings! The church’s word gains weight and power not through concepts but by example.” Prison writings, April 1944

“Jesus Christ is also in us every step we take, in every person we meet… Jesus Christ, God himself, speaks to us from every human being; the other person, this enigmatic, impenetrable You, is God’s claim on us; indeed, is the holy God in person whom we encounter. God’s claim is made on us in the wanderer on the street, the beggar at the door, the sick person at the door of the church, though certainly no less in every person near to us, in every person with whom we are together today. ‘Just as you did it to one the least of these, you did it to me,’ Jesus says. I am for you, you are for me God’s claim, God himself; in this recognition, our gaze opens to the fullness of the divine life in the world. Now life in the human community acquires its divine meaning. This community itself is one of the forms of God’s revelation. God is with us as long as there is community.” Sermon from April 15, 1928

“I find it a tremendously liberating thought that Christ is not at all dulled to the suffering and sin in the world, as we are, but rather that he experienced and bore it all unceasingly.” Letter to Ernst Wolf on September 13, 1942

“Personal suffering is a more useful key, a more fruitful principle than personal happiness for exploring the meaning of the world in contemplation and action.” Essay “After Ten Years” from late 1942

“For me the idea that God himself is suffering has always been one of the most convincing teachings of Christianity. I think God is nearer to suffering than to happiness and to find God in this way gives peace and rest and a strong and courageous heart.” Letter to the Leibholz Family from May 21, 1942

“Christian love and help for the weak means humiliation of the strong before the weak, of the healthy before the suffering, of the mighty before the exploited. The Christian relation between the strong and the weak is that the strong has to look up to the weak and never to look down. Weakness is holy, therefore we devote ourselves to the weak… So Christianity means a devaluation of all human values and the establishment of a new order of values in the sight of Christ.

Here we have arrived at the last question: What is the reason for this new conception of the meaning of weakness in the world? Why is suffering holy? Because God has suffered in the world from man, and wherever he comes, he has to suffer from man again. God has suffered on the cross. It is therefore that all human suffering and weakness is sharing God’s own suffering and weakness in the world. We are suffering: God is suffering much more. Our God is a suffering God. Suffering conforms man to God. The suffering man is in the likeness of God. ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness,’ says God. Wherever a man in physical or social or moral or religious weakness is aware of his existence and likeness with God, there he is sharing God’s life, there he feels God being with him, there he is open to God’s strength, that is God’s grace, God’s love, God’s comfort, which passeth all understanding and all human values. God glorifies himself in the weak as He glorified himself in the cross. God is mighty where man is nothing.” Undated sermon from London in 1934

“Ecce homo – behold God become human, the unfathomable mystery of the love of God for the world. God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love. God establishes a most intimate unity with this. God becomes human, a real human being. While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, God becomes human; and we must recognize that God wills that we be human, real human beings. While we distinguish between pious and godless, good and evil, noble and base, God loves real people without distinction.” Ethics

“I want to learn to have faith… [O]ne learns to have faith by living in the full this-worldliness of life. If one has completely renounced making something of oneself – whether it be a saint or a converted sinner or a church leader…, a just or an unjust person, a sick or a healthy person – then one throws oneself completely into the arms of God, and this is what I call this-worldliness: living fully in the midst of life’s tasks, questions, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities – then one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the sufferings of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And I think this is faith; this is metanoia [repentance, a changed mind]. And this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian… How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world? … I am grateful that I have been allowed this insight, and I know that it is only on the path that I have finally taken that I was able to learn this. So I am thinking gratefully and with peace of mind about past as well as present things.” Prison letter to Eberhard Bethke on July 21, 1944