A Prisoner of God

maxresdefaultThe following passage from the Bonhoeffer biography by Eric Metaxas really spoke to me. Hitler had just came to power (by popular election no less) but had not as yet gained complete power and had to use persuasion to accomplish what he later accomplished by decree.  He was attempting to get the Church to come into league with the State and throw off any doctrine that contradicted Nazi doctrine including throwing out the whole Old Testament as too Jewish.  Part of the Church immediately begin to fall in line with Hitler and most of the rest eventually did as the church leadership and lay persons very much wanted to be part of the fashionable Nazi opinions of the day which were…enthusiastically held by most Germans.  It was shocking to note how quickly much of the German church would abandon basic Christian doctrines rather than stand against the tide of public opinion.  There are so many parallels between that time and our current time in America and I wonder if we will not be facing persecution in the coming years as did Bonhoeffer who was martyred by the Nazis.

“During this tense time of waiting, Bonhoeffer preached his now rather famous sermon on the prophet Jeremiah.  It was Sunday, January 21.  Preaching on a Jewish Old Testament prophet was quite out of the ordinary and provocative, but that was the least of the sermon’s difficulties.  The opening words were typically intriguing: “Jeremiah was not eager to become a prophet of God.  When the call came to him all of a sudden, he shrank back, he resisted, he tried to get away.” 

The sermon reflected Bonhoeffer’s own difficult situation.  It is extremely doubtful whether anyone in his congregations could understand what he was talking about, much less accept that it was God’s word to them that Sunday.  If they had ever been puzzled by their brilliant young preacher’s homilies, they must have been puzzled now.  The picture that Bonhoeffer painted of Jeremiah was one of unrelieved gloom and drama.  God was after him, and he could not escape.  Bonhoeffer referred to the “arrow of the Almighty” striking down its “hunted game.”  But who was the “hunted game”?  It was Jeremiah!  But why was God shooting at the hero of the story?  Before they found out, Bonhoeffer switched from arrow imagery to noose imagery.

“The noose is drawn tighter and more painfully,” he continued, “reminding Jeremiah that he is a prisoner.  He is a prisoner and he has to follow.  His path is prescribed. It is the path of the man whom God will not let go, who will never be rid of God.” The sermon began to get seriously depressing.  What was the young preacher getting at?  Perhaps he was reading too many books.  A little fresh air and fun now and again, that’s what a man wants!  As for Jeremiah, he could certainly use a little cheering up.  But surely things would begin to look up for him soon! 

They continued listening, hoping for an upturn in Jeremiah’s fortunes.  But alas, Pastor Bonhoeffer delivered an unrelenting homiletic bummer.  He marched farther downhill: This path will lead right down into the deepest situation of human powerlessness.  The follower becomes a laughingstock, scorned and taken for a fool, but a fool who is extremely dangerous to people’s peace and comfort, so that he or she must be beaten, locked up, tortured, if not put to death right away.  That is exactly what became of this man Jeremiah, because he could not get away from God.  If Bonhoeffer wanted to ensure that his congregation would never dream of following God too closely, this sermon was just the ticket.   He then spoke of God driving Jeremiah “from agony to agony.” Could it get worse? 

And Jeremiah was just as much flesh and blood as we are, a human being like ourselves. He felt the pain of being continually humiliated and mocked, of the violence and brutality others used against him.  After one episode of agonizing torture that had lasted a whole night, he burst out in prayer: “O Lord, you have enticed me and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.” Bonhoeffer’s congregation was lost.  God maneuvered his beloved servant and prophet into imprisonment and agony?  Somewhere along the line they must have missed a crucial sentence!  But they hadn’t.  And what none of them could know was that Pastor Bonhoeffer was talking, in some large part, about himself and about his future, the future that God was showing him.  He was beginning to understand that he was God’s prisoner, that like the prophets of old, he was called to suffer and to be oppressed—and in that defeat and the acceptance of that defeat, there was victory.  It was a sermon that applied to anyone with ears to hear, but few could actually hear it: 

[Jeremiah] was upbraided as a disturber of the peace, an enemy of the people, just like all those, throughout the ages until the present day, who have been possessed and seized by God, for whom God had become too strong . . . how gladly would he have shouted peace and Heil with the rest. . . . The triumphal procession of truth and justice, the triumphal procession of God and his Scriptures through the world, drags in the wake of the chariot of victory a train of prisoners in chains.  May he at the last bind us to his triumphal carriage so that, although in bonds oppressed, we may participate in his victory!”

This sermon by Bonhoeffer was so instructive to me.  I pray that the Lord would bind me to his triumphal carriage (and indeed he has).  I am the type of Christian that God has to imprison and drag along at times but Praise God He continues to pursue me and will not let me go.

God has possessed and seized me – Praise God!  It is all of Him and nothing of me. I simply need to submit and play the part assigned to me.

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