Friday, July 8, 2011

On Understanding Bonhoeffer

I've started and re-started Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer about four times now, never getting past chapter two. I recognise it -- or at least I've been told to recognise it -- as a book I need to read, but I have felt unable to read it. There is a weight and seriousness to it that I am not used to. As I've read its opening passages, the act of merely reading it creates an unease, with the book constantly saying back to me, the reader, "You need to do more than read me".

I never understood the weight of Bonhoeffer's words, the seriousness with which he can say, "When Jesus Christ calls a man, he bids him 'Come and die'" and really mean it...literally. But having watched Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace, some semblance of understanding has emerged. There is nothing special about the film, but it does give you the sense that there is something special about the life that it portrays.

In the final scene, it finally dawned on me. It finally dawned on me what kind of conviction it takes to utter what Bonhoeffer uttered in Discipleship. What he wrote always appeared so morbid to me, so heavy, that I could not handle it. So I'd put the book down. To live as Bonhoeffer urged us to live -- or rather, to die as Bonhoeffer urged us to die --  made little sense in light of the now -- the eternal now, as Brueggemann puts it. But Bonhoeffer, like all of the Christians of the past that we hold up as types or examples, imagined a future.

He stands at the entrance to a prison yard, looking directly at the hanging dock which has his name written all over it. This is his immediate future, and it offers no hope. He is ordered to strip naked, which he does while maintaining his gaze on that deathly object. "Was everything I've done, everything I've stood for, worth bringing me to this point?" he seems to ask himself. Coming towards him from behind is his interrogator, his enemy. "You tremble, pastor. Afraid?", he asks. He so desperately wants the immenent prospect of death to defeat the man who has always seemed so willing to die. "I'm cold",  Bonhoeffer replies. The SS agent is perturbed by the response, but wrestles once more for the upper-hand, for the last word: "So...this is the end."

"No" says Bonhoeffer, and with that he walks towards his death.

It is this "No" that makes sense of everything that Bonhoeffer writes. In fact it is this "No" that makes sense of everything that any Christian has ever said that is worth listening to.

1 comment:

  1. "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Bonhoeffer really believed this, he lived it out and had complete faith that 'death' was not the end. Incredible testimony. Thanks for this :)