Teeth-Clenching Christianity

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

I recently read [Gotthold Ephraim] Lessing’s words: “I am too proud to consider myself unhappy – I clench my teeth – and let my boat go wherever it pleases the wind and the waves. It’s enough not to capsize it intentionally myself.” Should this pride and clenching of teeth be forbidden and alien to Christians? Do they always have to be cautiously prepared to be mild and calm? Isn’t there also a composure that proudly clenches its teeth? That’s not at all the same as an obstinate, stolid, fixed, lifeless, and above all thoughtless surrender-to-the-inevitable. I believe we honor God better by knowing everything we value in the life God has given us, and loving and enjoying it to the full, and therefore feeling intensely and honestly the pain of whatever of life’s values has been diminished or lost – although people like to belittle this as the weakness and sentimentality of bourgeois existence – rather than being dulled to what is important in life and therefore also to the pain. Job’s words, “The Lord gave, etc.” include rather than exclude that, as is clear from his teeth-clenching speeches and their justification by God (cf. 42:7ff.) over against the false, prematurely pious submission of his friends.

Letters & Papers from Prison

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