When God is being pushed out of a world come of age

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

. . . God is being increasingly pushed out of a world come of age, from the realm of our knowledge and life and, since Kant, has only occupied the ground beyond the world of experience. On the one hand, theology has resisted this development with apologetics and taken up arms—in vain—against Darwinism and so on; on the other hand, it has resigned itself to the way things have gone and allowed God to function only as deus ex machina in the so-called ultimate questions, that is, God becomes the answer to life’s questions, a solution to life’s needs and conflicts. So if anyone gives no evidence of such problems or refuses to lose self-control or be pitied over these things, then this person is really closed to talking about God; or else the man without such questions and so forth must have it proven to him that in truth he is up to his neck in such questions, needs, or conflicts, without admitting it or knowing it. If we succeed here—and existential philosophy and psychotherapy have worked out some very ingenious methods in this respect—then this man is open for God, and methodism can celebrate its triumphs. But if people cannot successfully be made to regard their happiness as disastrous, their health as sickness, and their vitality as an object of despair, then the theologians are at their wits’ end. The person being dealt with either is a stubborn sinner of the most malignant kind or is living an existence of “bourgeois self-satisfaction,” and the one is as far from salvation as the other. You see, this is the attitude that I am contending against. When Jesus made sinners whole, they were real sinners, but Jesus didn’t begin by making every person into a sinner. He called people from their sin, not into it. Certainly the encounter with Jesus turned all human values upside down. This is what happened at Paul’s conversion, but his encounter with Jesus preceded the recognition of his sins. Certainly Jesus accepted people living on the margins of human society, prostitutes, and tax collectors, but certainly not only them, because he wanted to accept all humankind. Never did Jesus question anyone’s health and strength or good fortune as such or regard it as rotten fruit; otherwise why would he have made sick people well or given strength back to the weak? Jesus claims all of human life, in all its manifestations for himself and for the kingdom of God.

* * *

What I am driving at is that God should not be smuggled in somewhere in the very last, secret place that is left. Instead, one must simply recognize that the world and humankind have come of age. One must not find fault with people in their worldliness but rather confront them with God where they are strongest. One must give up the “holier-than-thou” ploys and not regard psychotherapy or existential philosophy as scouts preparing the way for God. The intrusive manner of all these methods is far too unaristocratic for the Word of God to be allied with them. The Word of God does not ally itself with this rebellion of mistrust, this rebellion from below. Instead, it reigns.

Letters & Papers From Prison


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