Bonhoeffer and Suffering

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyI finished reading Bonhoeffer (Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy) by Eric Metaxas today.

This was the perfect book for me to be reading while struggling with chronic pain. It is impossible to feel sorry for yourself -- no matter how bad you feel -- while reading about the horrors of Nazi Germany and those like Bonhoeffer who took a stand against evil at such great personal cost to themselves.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man of deep spiritual conviction who did not fear suffering or death. He regarded it as a duty, a privilege and an honor to suffer with those who suffered. He believed that a church that did not stand with the Jews was not the church of Jesus Christ. And he saw the evil that was fast approaching the nation while most around him were being taken in and manipulated by Hitler. It was almost eerie to read of the economic climate and the events that set the stage for the rise of Adolf Hitler to power. There are many parallels to our world today. The people of Germany were looking for a political savior.

Toward the end of the book, as he was about to be executed just weeks before the end of WWII, I was moved to tears by Bonhoeffer's faith and the peace with which he faced death. Because of this beautifully written biography, I felt almost as if I knew him.

There were quotes all through the book that I wanted to share. But two passages especially impacted me:

[Some] people neither steal, nor murder, nor commit adultery, but do good according to their abilities. But . . . they must close their eyes and ears to the injustice around them. Only at the cost of self-deception can they keep their private blamelessness clean from the stains of responsible action in the world. In all that they do, what they fail to do will not let them rest. They will either be destroyed by this unrest, or they will become the most hypocritical of all Pharisees.

And from the chapter, On the Road to Freedom:

No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence.

Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up -- that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? . . . Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God's Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.

How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world?

Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.

Those words were taken from a sermon Bonhoeffer preached while a pastor in London. The author explained that "Even if millions have seen Bonhoeffer's death as tragic and as a prematurely ended life, we can be certain that he did not see it that way at all."

The camp doctor at Flossenburg wrote of Bonhoeffer's execution, ". . . In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."


I have been struggling lately with physical pain (a drop in the bucket compared to what some people suffer on a daily basis, I'm quite sure). I don't feel sorry for myself or wonder "why me?" when facing challenges. I never feel like God is punishing me. And I always know that He has the power to completely heal me and end my pain at any moment. But sometimes He allows us to suffer instead. And I believe that if He does, there is a purpose. God is fully aware that I would be happy and thankful to have my pain come to an abrupt end. At the same time, I know I become more sensitive to the pain of others, more compassionate, and better equipped to pray and comfort someone else because of personal experience with suffering. So my prayer has been for healing if that is God's will, but grace and strength to endure whatever He allows me to suffer.

I have been hurting badly all this week. I've whined a bit. And I've been a little down emotionally. But reading this book kept me from throwing a pity party for myself in my head. I am so blessed that I can crawl into a big bathtub and soak my shoulder in soothing hot water. I can rest all day if I need to. I have friends who care, who encourage and pray for me. I have a compassionate husband who takes care of me. I have access to pain medication and good doctors. I have a very comfortable bed to sleep in, or to toss and turn all night in if that is my lot.

I started this day out feeling terrible. I soaked in the tub for over an hour and got some relief. But when I got out, the pain started up again. I texted my doctor and asked if I could try a muscle relaxer or something for nerve pain (because the radiating pain hurts in many places other than my shoulder). John picked up two prescriptions for me and had them filled. But shortly after several friends mentioned (on FB) that they were praying for my pain, I noticed that my pain had subsided significantly. And I hadn't taken anything. I was just tolerating it.

I've had only a few radiating pains all evening. And my shoulder is not aching right now as long as I don't try to move it in certain ways. It has been hurting ALL the time lately. I don't know if God will heal my shoulder or if He is just giving me a reprieve. But even if He allows it to return, I am so thankful for the relief I've had for the past several hours.

I started reading online about the two prescriptions I asked for. And after reading about potential side effects, I am feeling apprehensive about taking either one of them. I am not one to pop pills easily. I have decided that since I am not in pain right now, I am going to take nothing, go to bed, and see what happens. Maybe someone is still praying for me.


DeeDee said…
Shari. What a wonderful outlook Bonjoeffer had. I have often said that death to us is such a big thing to us. We see it as a sad end all the while, God wonders why we cling so to life here as we know it (which, many times is mostly hell). He sees it as a new beginning. I like how Bonhoeffer put it, that our life on earth is a "prologue before the curtain goes up." So cool!
DeeDee said…
Remember, oh maybe 15 or so years ago? When you spent hours on end in a bathtub trying to get relief from unthinkable pain? I'll never forget that. Is this as bad? :-(

Still praying for you.
Shari said…
That was 1995 or 96. Your memory is good. And I always say the "worst pain" is the pain you're currently suffering. But I would not say this is worse than that was. Just different.

That was a long six weeks. And I keep telling myself that this, too, shall pass! I just wish I did not have so much anxiety about having surgery.
Shari said…
I will tell you without hesitation, though, that my tongue surgery was a walk in the park compared to this.

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