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A Year with Dietrich BonhoefferDaily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and Sermons
By Dietrich Bonhoeffer
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Dietrich Bonhoeffer
All right reserved.
God's Unfathomable Love
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. God has no patience with our dividing the world and humanity according to our standards and imposing ourselves as judges over them. God leads us into absurdity by becoming a real human being and a companion of sinners, thereby forcing us to become the judges of God. God stands beside the real human being and the real world against all their accusers. So God becomes accused along with human beings and the world, and thus the judges become the accused.
-- from Ethics 84
It [is] not enough to say that God embraces human beings. This affirmation rests on an infinitely deeper one, a sentence with a more impenetrable meaning, that God, in the conception and birth of Jesus Christ, has taken on humanity bodily. God overrules every reproach of untruth, doubt, and uncertainty raised against God's love by entering as a human being into human life, by taking on and bearing bodily the nature, essence, guilt, and suffering of human beings. God becomes human out of love for humanity. God does not seek the most perfect human being with whom to be united, but takes on human nature as it is. Jesus Christ is not the transfiguration of noble humanity but the Yes of God to real human beings, not the dispassionate Yes of a judge but [the] merciful Yes of a compassionate sufferer. In this Yes all the life and all the hope of the world are comprised. In the human Jesus Christ the whole of humanity has been judged; again this is not the uninvolved judgment of a judge, but the merciful judgment of one who has borne and suffered the fate of all humanity. Jesus is not a human being but the human being. What happens to him happens to human beings. It happens to all and therefore to us. The name of Jesus embraces in itself the whole of humanity and the whole of God.
-- from Ethics 8485
The Face of Evil
The message of God's becoming human attacks the heart of an era when contempt for humanity or idolization of humanity is the height of all wisdom, among bad people as well as good. The weaknesses of human nature appear more clearly in a storm than in the quiet flow of calmer times. Among the overwhelming majority of people, anxiety, greed, lack of independence, and brutality show themselves to be the mainspring of behavior in the face of unsuspected chance and threats. At such a time the tyrannical despiser of humanity* easily makes use of the meanness of the human heart by nourishing it and giving it other names. Anxiety is called responsibility; greed is called industriousness; lack of independence becomes solidarity; brutality becomes masterfulness. By this ingratiating treatment of human weaknesses, what is base and mean is generated and increased ever anew. The basest contempt for humanity carries on its sinister business under the most holy assertions of love for humanity. The meaner the baseness becomes, the more willing and pliant a tool it is in the hand of the tyrant. The small number of upright people will be smeared with mud. Their courage is called revolt, their discipline Pharisaism, their independence arbitrariness, and their masterfulness arrogance.
-- from Ethics 8586
*Bonhoeffer is, of course, referring to Adolf Hitler.
The Sin of Contempt
For the tyrannical despiser of humanity, popularity is a sign of the greatest love for humanity. He hides his secret profound distrust of all people behind the stolen words of true community. While he declares himself before the masses to be one of them, he praises himself with repulsive vanity and despises the rights of every individual. He considers the people stupid, and they become stupid; he considers them weak, and they become weak; he considers them criminal, and they become criminal. His most holy seriousness is frivolous play; his conventional protestations of solicitude for people are bare-faced cynicism. In his deep contempt for humanity, the more he seeks the favor of those he despises, the more certainly he arouses the masses to declare him a god. Contempt for humanity and idolization of humanity lie close together. Good people, however, who see through all this, who withdraw in disgust from people and leave them to themselves, and who would rather tend to their own gardens than debase themselves in public life, fall prey to the same temptation to have contempt for humanity as do bad people. Their contempt for humanity is of course more noble, more upright, but at the same time less fruitful, poorer in deeds. Faced by God's becoming human, this contempt will stand the test no better than that of the tyrant. The despiser of humanity despises what God has loved, despises the very form of God become human.
-- from Ethics 8687
God's Promises Kept
God does not give us everything we want, but God does fulfill all God's promises, i.e., God remains the Lord of the earth, God preserves the Church, constantly renewing our faith and not laying on us more than we can bear, gladdening us with Divine nearness and help, hearing our prayers, and leading us along the best and straightest paths to holiness. By God's faithfulness in doing this, God creates in us praise for God alone.
-- from Letters and Papers from Prison 206
Excerpted from A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Dietrich Bonhoeffer Copyright © 2005 by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Excerpted by permission.
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