Hope and Tears, Bonhoeffer and Sullivan

Rev. Cliff WarnerCliffNotes

Having turned the final page, I called Christine over to my seat Wednesday night and through tears tried to convey the soul-stirring and wrenching beauty of the life I’d just read. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was utterly surrendered to Christ. But do not mistake “surrendered” for a kind of passive yielding. No, this surrender was an active love for God and his world that was so prodigious and exuberant that Bonhoeffer threw himself headlong into not only the beauty and joy of this life, but also into final solidarity with those who lived in darkness and pain.
In fact, one of the most inspiring and challenging aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life is his full comprehension that to faithfully live “in Christ” is not so much about avoiding sin and the world, always on the defensive. No, life in Christ is so much more about our “yes” to faith, hope and love; not a saccharine or easy love, however. This love will lead us to suffer, a giving-ourselves-away kind of love, a Christ-like love that leads us also to defend the orphan and widow, and to speak the truth in love and boldness.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed in a concentration camp during Hitler’s final weeks because of his involvement in a conspiracy to stop the Third Reich. From risking his life to save Jewish friends to little kind gestures toward cellmates, and from prophetic sermons and writings to his love of the fine arts and a good joke–in all these things Bonhoeffer reminds me of my favorite quote from Irenaeus, one of the church fathers: “the glory of God is man fully alive.”
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Bonhoeffer:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
“I’m still discovering, right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing, we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God.”
“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”

The day after finishing the Bonhoeffer biography (by Eric Metaxas), my family and I went to Concordia University to see Dr. Lisa Neely’s (Christ Church Vestry member) theatrical production of The Miracle Maker, the story of Helen Keller. Here again was the extraordinary example of someone (Anne Sullivan, Helen’s tutor) who showed long-term sacrificial love for no audience or purpose, but simply because she loved and believed in the dignity of a human being others had given up on. And here again came my tears, as untold hours of Sullivan’s bang-your-head-against-the-wall perseverance, stubborn hope and cruciform love finally yielded a breakthrough.

Some weeks the groaning of this world and the devastating beauty of grace live real close to the emotional surface. The depth of my awareness of this world’s brokenness is matched only by my profound confidence and joy in Christ Jesus, who makes all things new. It was that kind of week, which reminded me of one of my favorite poems, “The Weeper” by Robert Cording.