Wednesday, 16 April 2008

To Eberhard Bethge

Today has been a long day. Tonight there is at least time to consider a letter, a letter which means a lot to me.

                                                                                                       Tegel 21st July 1944

Dear Eberhard,

All I want to do today is to send you a short greeting. I expect you are often here with us in your thoughts and are always glad of any sign of life, even if the theological discussion stops for a moment. These theological thoughts are, in fact, always occupying my mind; but there are times when I am just content to live the life of faith without worrying about its problems. At those times I simply take pleasure in the days readings - in particular those of yesterday and today; and I m always glad to go back to Paul Gerhardt's beautiful hymns.

During the last year or so I have come to understand more and more the profound this - worldliness of Christianity. The Christian is not a homo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man -in contrast, shall we say to John the Baptist. I don't mean the shallow and banal this - worldliness of the enlightened, the busy, the comfortable, the lascivious, but the profound this-worldliness, characterized by discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection. I think Luther lived a this-worldly life in this sense.

 I remember a conversation I had in America thirteen years ago with a young French Pastor. We were asking ourselves quite simply what we wanted to do with our lives. He said that he would like to become a saint (and I think that it is quite likely that he did become one). At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith. For a long time I did not realize the depth of the contrast. I thought that I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like it. I suppose I wrote The Cost of Discipleship as the end of that path. Today I can see the dangers of that book, though I still stand by what I wrote.

I discovered later, and 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. One must abandon completely any attempt to make something of oneself, wether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (the so called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness  I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experience and perplexities. In doing so we throw ourselves completely into the hands of God, taking seriously not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world - watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and Christian (c.f, Jer 45!) How can success make us arrogant or failure lead us astray, when we share in God's sufferings of a life of this kind?

I think that you see what I mean, even though I put it so briefly. I'm glad to be able to learn this, and know that i've only been able to do so along the road that I have travelled. So I'm grateful for the past and the present, and content with them.

You may be surprised at such a personal letter; but for once I want to say this kind of thing, to whom should i say it? Perhaps the time will come when I can talk to Maria like this; I very much hope so. But I can't expect it of her yet.

May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but, above all may he lead us to himself.

I was delighted to hear from you, and am glad that you are not finding it too hot. There must be a good many  letters from me on the way. Didn't we go more or less along that way in 1936?

Goodbye. Keep well, and don't lose hope that we all shall meet again soon. I always think of you in faithfulness and gratitude.

Your Dietrich

Today, I saw a lot of bravery in my pupils at school. Life is not as dramatic now as it once was, but tragedy still happens. Dealing with it well is a mark of excellence.

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