We turn to God when we are sorely pressed; We pray for help, and ask for peace and bread; We seek release from illness, guilt and death: All people do, in faith or unbelief.
We turn to God when he is sorely pressed, And find him poor, scorned, without roof and bread, Bowed under weight of weakness, sin and death: Faith stands by God in his dark hour of grief.
God turns to us when we are sorely pressed, And feeds our souls and bodies with his bread; for one and all Christ give himself in death: Through his forgiveness sin will find relief.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Tune – Eventide)
In three days it will be the 72nd anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian who has become for many a Twentieth Century Saint.
“It is not the religious act which makes the Christian, but the participation in the suffering of God in the world”. Bonhoeffer wrote both the poem, and those comments on its meaning, from prison in July 1944. 9 months later he was dead: hanged in Flossenburg prison just a few days before the Allied forces reached the town. His crime was complicity in the plot to assassinate Hitler. He wrote all his poetry from a prison cell, trying to make sense of a world in which the suffering of God, in the person of Christ, was the source of the forgiveness without which there is no peace.
A modest, scholarly, and largely pacifist Christian, he found out the hard way that there was no escape from the grim realities of the Third Reich, and trod the path of resistance with a heavy heart: violence was not in his nature. He was a reluctant saint and his poems and letters tell of his inner struggle to make sense of his troubled times and his place in them. “Who am I?” he asked, in another of his poems. The outward calm and compassion which impressed even his captors, hiding the inner turmoil as he pondered his fate and imprisonment and his determination to be a good pastor and Christian in a world gone mad.
His was a life which mirrored the suffering of his master, a life which gives strength to all of us in our times of fear and doubt. The best we can do in our own uncertainties and sorrows is to share his prayer:
“Who am I? Lonely questions mock me. Who I really am, you know me, I am thine, O God!
The Rev’d Peter Moth is a retired minister and member of Kenton URC in Newcastle upon Tyne.