Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Bonhoeffer and the Resistance

In the Postscript to her recently published work, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance, Sabine Dramm observes:

Bonhoeffer did not fit the image of the resistance fighter, working underground and waging a consistent and unrelenting struggle from the beginning of the Third Reich until its end. He was not the "pure martyr" who in selfless surrender allowed himself to be killed for his faith. He was a man of flesh and blood who did not seek death but wanted to live, marry, go on working -- in short, who wanted to have a future. And this was so although he was aware of the risk of death, or just because of his awareness-- although (as he wrote at the end of 1942) he had "almost come to terms" with the death that was perhaps so imminent, or for that very reason. He was someone who did not try to escape even his own insufficiency. In the middle of his essay "After Ten Years," there is a section headed "A few articles of faith on the sovereignty of God in history." It interrupts the style and flow of his ideas--even the somewhat wooden heading is out of line with the rest of the text--but it includes a passage in which Bonhoeffer ceases to speak as "we," as he does elsewhere in the essay, but talks as "I" and formulates a personal creed:
I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. For that purpose he needs men who make the best use of everything. I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to help us resist in all time of distress. But he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone. A faith such as this should allay all our fears for the future I believe that even our mistakes and shortcomings are turned to good account, and that it is no harder for God to deal with them than with our supposedly good deeds. I believe that God is no timeless fate, but that he waits for and answers sincere prayers and responsible actions.
This understanding of existence was based on the certainty of God's presence--in spite of this world and in the face of this world; in spite of the frontier of death and in the face of that frontier. In this certainty Bonhoeffer experienced what he described in the last section of his Ethics manuscript: "The cross of reconciliation sets us free to live before God in the midst of the godless world." His theology of the world and worldliness, and his matter-of-fact, undivided devotion were not mutually exclusive. They included each other. the this-worldliness of faith, based on the existence and presence of the Nazarene, which he so vehemently maintained, and his commitment to the conspiracy corresponded to each other. His resistance did not issue from a grudging acknowledgment that "he was bound to resist" the Nazi regime in spite of his Christian faith. It resulted from his theological self-understanding, the conviction that he had to seek a way of resistance in the world in which he lived just because of his faith. And here we come upon his question about the reality of God in the reality of the world, and upon Bonhoeffer's own answer: a worldly Christian existence in a godforsaken time. (pp. 242-43)