Bonhoeffer’s Solution to The Problem of Pain: reblog from With All I Am

peacecrossPrayson Daniel does not post with great frequency, but then again his posts are thoughtful, and they make us think. So it was with Bonhoeffer’s Solution to The Problem of Pain.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw and experienced the unmistakable face of pain and suffering during the reign of Nazism in Germany. During his time at Berlin-Tegel Bonhoeffer exchanged letters and wrote notes that are now known as Letters and Papers from Prison. It is in these letters and notes Bonhoeffer explored the problem of pain and suffering. His address of human suffering does not flow from a philosophical armchair reflection as a passive observer but rather that of a deeply moved spectator. It is for that reason we do not find any  classical defenses such as of John Hick’s Soul-making theodicy and Alvin Plantinga’s freewill-defense in his writings.

Bonhoeffer’s solution to the problem of pain and suffering, to which I concisely introduced, was crafted  during his solitary confinement ward at Berlin-Tegel Military Detention Center where Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for his participation in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. Tegel was the place where he spent his last eighteen months. He was executed on April 8th 1945.

What can Christianity offer in times of prevailing evil? God, in Christianity, according Bonhoeffer, is not deus ex machine, a being that mechanical appears to solve our insoluble problems. He is not a being that we evoke as an explanation of unexplainable due to our epistemic limitation. He is not a being that we call upon to offer us strength in are powerless and weakness moments. No. If Christian God was such a being, then He is no longer needed in the world that is “coming of age”. We are beginning to finally solve our problems. Such a God is “pushed further away and thus is ever on the retreat” (Bonhoeffer 2010: 408-9) (continued here)

Because  focuses on philosophical concepts, he does not often quote scripture. I expect that in part explains the nature of the comments he gets. Unbelievers do seem to resent scriptural quotations.

There is a place for what  writes. It is not enough to quote scripture. We must also understand what scripture is saying to us.

Whenever I reblog a post, I like to add my own two cents. I will do my best to relate my understanding of what  wrote back to scripture.

Cent Number One

What is the relevance of saying “God, in Christianity, according Bonhoeffer, is not deus ex machine, a being that mechanically appears to solve our insoluble problems”?

Wikipedia offers this explanation.

Deus ex machina

The term has evolved to mean a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. Depending on how it is done, it can be intended to move the story forward when the writer has “painted himself into a corner” and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending, or as a comedic device.

Consider why men worship idols. We want a god that answers our concerns. We don’t want to suffer. We want an end to our suffering. That, I think, is why some people refuse to believe in God. If they cannot have the god they want, they don’t want any god at all.

Cent Number Two

When God suffers with us, what does that mean? I am not certain. I think it means something different to different people. After all, if Christianity is about establishing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then each of us has the opportunity to have a unique relationship with Jesus.

When I consider the cross, I think of God suffering to pay the price for my sins. In all my life, I have never suffered that way. I have suffered. I have been terribly afraid for others. My pride has been hurt, but I have appealed to God, not called upon Him suffer with me. I have never asked to suffer with him.

Nevertheless, I understand that there is something to be learned from suffering. So I have slowly learned to look at suffering from the perspective of these verses.

Hebrews 12:3-11 New King James Version (NKJV)

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

My guess is that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s wisdom and understanding easily surpassed my own. So that when he suffered he felt God was with Him, and he was learning from the Master Himself.

Bonus Cent

It seems there is no doubt the Apostle Paul felt the presence of our Lord in his suffering. It is also clear that Paul often well understood why he suffered.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 New King James Version (NKJV)

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me,“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

At least in this life I doubt I will ever take pleasure in infirmities (Paul only did so for Christ’s sake). Yet if I learn what our Lord wants me to learn from whatever I must suffer, then I too can learn to be strong when I am weak.

Note: I have heard about the man for years, but I have never read anything he wrote. I think  has inspired me to order one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s books. I guess that will be Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

3 thoughts on “Bonhoeffer’s Solution to The Problem of Pain: reblog from With All I Am

  1. To appreciate Bonhoeffer, Tom, I’d recommend that you start with a biography before tackling the theology. Biographical context is very useful, particularly in his case. There’s a very good work by Eric Metaxas that you would probably enjoy. It’s called “Bonhoeffer” and then has a subtitle that I can’t quite remember – something like “Priest, Martyr, Spy”. I have the book downstairs but am too lazy and pressed for time to go look at it. I’m sure you would have no trouble finding it through main title/author search. There may be some other worthy bios, also.

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