Monday, January 5, 2015

Bonhoeffer on Reading Scripture


Dear Rüdiger

. . . I will first of all quite simply make a confession: I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions and that we need only to ask insistently and with some humility for us to receive the answer from it. One cannot simply read the Bible like other books. We must be prepared really to question it. Only in this way is it revealed to us. Only if we await the final answer from it does it give that Word to us. The reason for this is that in the Bible God speaks to us. And we cannot simply reflect upon God from ourselves; rather, we must ask God. Only when we seek God does God answer. Naturally one can also read the Bible like any other book, as for example from the viewpoint of textual criticism, etc. There is certainly nothing to be said against this. Only that it is not the way that reveals the essence of the Bible, only its superficial surface. Just as we do not grasp the word of a person whom we love, in order to dissect it, but just as such a word is simply accepted and it then lingers with us all day long, simply as the word of this person whom we love, and just as the one who reveals himself to us as the one who has spoken to us in this word that moves us ever more deeply in our hearts like Mary, so should we treat  the Word of God. Only if we dare for once to enter into relationship with the Bible as the place where the God who loves us really speaks to us and will not leave us alone with our questions will we be happy with the Bible. . . .

If I am one who says where God shall be, so I will always find a God there who corresponds in some way to me, is pleasing to me, who belongs to my nature. If it is, however, God who speaks where God chooses to be, then that will probably be a place which does not at all correspond to my nature, which is not at all pleasing to me. But this place is the cross of Christ. And the one who will find him there must be with him under this cross, just as the Sermon on the Mount demands. This doesn't suit our nature at all but is completely counter to it. This, however, is the message of the Bible, not only in the New but also in the OId Testament (Isa. 53!). In any event, Jesus and Paul intended this with the cross of Jesus is the Scripture, that is, the OId Testament, fulfilled. The whole Bible will, therefore, be the Word in which God will allow the divine self to be discovered by us. This is no place which is pleasing or apriori sensible to us, but a place strange to us in every way and which is entirely contrary to us. But this is the very place God has chosen to encounter us.

So I now read the Bible in this way. I ask in every place: What is God saying to us here? I ask God to show us what God wants to say. Thus we are not at all permitted to seek after general, eternal truths which would correspond to our own "everlasting" nature and as such would be made evident. Rather, we seek the will of God who is entirely strange and contrary to us, whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts, who hides under the sign of the cross at which all our ways and thoughts come to an end. God is wholly, other than the so-called eternal truth. That is always still our own thoughts of self and our wished-for life everlasting. God's Word, however, begins where God points us to the cross of Jesus at which all our ways and thoughts, also the so-called "everlasting" converge, namely in death and God's judgment. Is it in any way intelligible to you, if I won't at any point be willing to sacrifice the Bible as this strange Word of God, that, on the contrary, I ask with all my strength what God wants to say to us here? Everything outside the Bible has become too uncertain for me. I am afraid only of running into a heavenly double of myself. Is it also comprehensible to you that I am rather ready for a sacrifice of my intellect (sacrifcium intellectus) even in these matters and only in these matters, that is, in the sight of the God of truth? And who would not in fact bring his or her own sacrifice of intellect into such a situation, that is, with the acknowledgment one does not yet understand this or that place of the Scripture, in the awareness that even this will one day be revealed as God's own Word? I would rather do this than only to say, following some suitable opinion: "This is divine, that is human."

I also want to say to you quite personally that since I have learned to read the Bible in this way - and that is not so very long ago - it becomes more wonderful to me every day. I read it every morning and evening, often also during the day. And every day I take for myself a text that I will have for the entire week and attempt to immerse myself entirely in it, in order to be able to really listen to it. I know that without this I would no longer be able to live properly. Or, even before that, to believe in the right way.

(Gessamelte Schriften III, 26-29)

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