Oct18WedOctober 18, 2017
I continue to love my reading of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison,” so here’s another DB-focussed post.
By January of 1943, Bonhoeffer had been in prison for nine months. He had been certain that he would be released before Christmas, but in this he was mistaken.
To his best friend Eberhard Bethge, a fellow-member of the German Resistance who had recently been drafted into the German army, he wrote, “If we survive during these coming weeks and months, we shall be able to see quite clearly that all has turned out for the best. The idea that we could have avoided many of life’s difficulties if we had taken things more cautiously is too foolish to be entertained for a moment.”
With reference to the recent landing of “enemy” troops close to where Bethge was stationed, Bonhoeffer went on, “When things like this happen, I see that composure isn’t part of my nature, but that I have to acquire it at the cost of repeated effort. In fact, natural composure is probably in most cases nothing but a euphemism for indifference and indolence … Is there not also a kind of composure which proudly clenches its teeth, but is quite different from a dull, stolid, rigid, lifeless, mechanical submitting-to-something-I-can’t-help? I think we honour God more if we gratefully accept the life that he gives us with all its blessings, loving it and drinking it to the full, and also grieving deeply and sincerely when we have impaired or wasted any of the good things of life …”
So, there in his small prison cell, Bonhoeffer remained, enduring, day by day, the tedium and loneliness, and, night by night, the noise and danger and chaos of Allied bombs falling all around the prison. And all the while, exerting the effort required to maintain a mindset of composure that was truly supernatural, not merely natural, and not really just indifference and indolence.
What he was writing about was the “peace of God” that “guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” and empowers us to “honour God” by “gratefully accepting the life that he gives us with all its blessings, loving it and drinking it to the full.” This Christ-centred peace of heart and mind is the only real and respectable source of godly composure [Philippians 4:5-9].
Anyone can mix himself a cocktail made of equal parts indifference and indolence. But that sort of drink brings on a dull and stolid, rigid and lifeless state of mind. No real peace comes from drinking that to the full.