Thursday, November 20, 2008


Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my all time favorite theologians, as well as favorite reads. If you've never read Bonhoeffer, these are the three books I'd especially recommend (though any of his are good): Life Together, Letters and Papers from Prison, and The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer, while living a fulfilling life in important respects, did live through disappointments on a number of levels. Bonhoeffer's work to awaken the church in Germany to the dangers and evil of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, generally failed. Even the confessing church he helped start did not stand through the long haul as a witness for Christ against the evils being done. And on a personal level, his love for Maria von Wedemeyer was never realized in marriage because of his imprisonment by the Nazis, and then his eventual execution.

"Hope does not disappoint." (Romans 5:5a). How does this apply quoted in the chapter of this book? Bonhoeffer gladly received all good as from God and did not try to deny human longings and aspirations. He rather saw all created as good, while at the same time necessarily under the cross of Christ. So that all is subject to God in Christ. But there's no doubt Dietrich was terribly disappointed over the church's failure to see through the evil happening in his day, and on a personal level was terribly disappointed that he and Maria could not live out their love together.

But Bonhoeffer refused to give up his high hopes. His passion had become to keep seeking to find and live out the will of God in this life. He seems to have seen each new day as a new enterprise and adventure in doing so, not that it was easy for him, because it wasn't. But God seems to have kept his life full, even in prison with his continued reading of books, writing and contact with the other prisoners. Bonhoeffer believed that each hope that was in his heart and a part of his life, would somehow reach fulfillment. He looked for that in his present existence, not in the sweet by and by.

"The day after the main plot to kill Hitler failed he wrote to console his friend [Eberhard Bethge]: 'By this-worldliness I mean to live unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world - watching with Christ in Gethsemane.'" (p. 121, quoted from Letters and Papers, p. 370)

Bonhoeffer seemed to live in hope, not of everything turning out as he planned, though he certainly felt strongly about his love for Maria and was much concerned for her. And he was hopeful that the plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler, of which he was the moral, theological support in spite of his Christian pacifism, would succeed. But he refused to live life, no matter how bleak it appeared, as not having hope. Bonhoeffer surely found his hope always in the Lord and never in his circumstances. He hoped for better circumstances and good outcomes from God, but in the end when he knew his end had come, his testimony of peace and calm was striking to those who witnessed it, and were able to pass it on later. His last words: "This is the end - for me, the beginning of life."

This is probably my favorite chapter in the book and draws alot from Bonhoeffer's writings. It speaks to me in my life in helping me to seek God's will in Jesus for each day above all, while seeking to live the life God gives now to the full.

What words would you like to add about disappointment and hope?

(From reading from The Consolations of Theology, edited by Brian S. Rosner, the chapter, entitled, "Bonhoeffer on Disappointment", by Brian S. Rosner.)


Anonymous said...

O.E. hopian "wish, expect, look forward (to something)," of unknown origin, a general Low Ger. word (cf. O.Fris. hopia, M.L.G., M.Du. hopen; M.H.G. hoffen "to hope" was borrowed from Low Ger. Some suggest a connection with hop (v.) on the notion of "leaping in expectation."

Anonymous said...

1434, from M.Fr. desappointer "undo the appointment, remove from office," from des- "dis" + appointer "appoint." Modern sense of "to frustrate expectations" (1494) is from secondary meaning of "fail to keep an appointment."

both have to do with expectations.

what do i expect?
where do i place my hope?

it is easy to look around me and get caught up in circumstances and what others are doing. it is easy to see the flaws of life. it is easy to want more and expect to be given more. it is east yo look at the lives of others and have it influence my hopes and behavior. i is what i see! but it is my God that i do not see that gives me the true gift of hope in Jesus.

Diane Reynolds said...

I do admire Bonhoeffer. However, I find myself torn on the plot to kill Hitler. Hitler was abhorrent and evil, and I can understand the urgency to get rid of him, when everyday he was alive brought untold suffering, but wasn't being part of an attempting assassination becoming the thing we hate? If we believe in peace, don't we have to live peace?


L.L. Barkat said...

have always admired him... really... I don't know that I could respond in similar ways

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good point that our faith is not about what we see or experience so much as in God's word to us in Jesus. Sometimes God gives us some experience to encourage us in that faith, but many times our experience can seem to contradict that. Though the more we see the big picture, even from Scripture, the more that can help us.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your comment and good thoughts here. Yes, I would concur. But Bonhoeffer seen it as taking on himself both the blame and even whatever wrong there was in so doing. A Christ-like move and possible in Christ in his mind, I would think. And also part of his Lutheranism, while at the same time a pacifist. Luther said to be willing to sin boldly in this life, because there may be certain situations in which sin is unavoidable. My understanding here of some of Luther's thought.

Of course if Bonhoeffer were here we'd here what he had to say, and would learn alot. And it probably would be different and much clearer and certainly so as to what he was actually thinking.

Ted M. Gossard said...


For me, as well, I'm not sure either. I can definitely see a part of me that would be willing to rid the earth of such an evil person. But is that my prerogative? Not that I can tell from Scripture. If that's what you're getting at. Interesting to seek to understand Bonhoeffer's rationale and how he seemed to seek to see the pattern of this very action in Christ and what Christ had done.

Kim said...

Just a few brief simple thoughts on hope and disappointment - first being I cannot even fathom what hope and disappointment looked like to Bonhoeffer, but I can gather they come from the same roots of faith. When I put my faith in anyone other than Christ, I will be disappointed one day. When I keep my hope in Christ, then it helps me keep all my disappointments in perspective. Some call this "optimism" etc etc. No, the Christian faith is so much more than that, so much more concrete. Hope in Christ is much more solid than, say, a positive outlook on life that hopes things will get better. I'm just babbling here, but you get the point. LOL.