Seeing from below

On April 9, 1945, Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was hanged for his participation in a plot to overthrow Hitler.

Bonhoeffer became, for many, an example of resistance to evil. His writings, especially those from prison, moved many to see that faith is not something that we only go to in times of trouble and that the Church must not turn in on herself.

He also saw that we must begin to understand the world in a different way, from below, an insight related to the preferential option for the poor that arose in Latin America in the late 1960s.

We stated what might be called “the preferential hermeneutic of the poor.” We can understand what is happening better if we look at it from the perspective of the poor.

We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer…. We have to learn that personal suffering is a more effective key, a more rewarding principle for exploring the world in thought and action than personal good fortune.

Bonhoeffer lived this out. In 1939 he found himself in New York City, protected from the Nazis who were closing in on him for his work with the Confessing Church. But he decided to return to Germany, even though it would be dangerous.

For Bonhoeffer, following Christ means taking up the Cross, being willing to suffer – not from masochism or denial of the good of the world God has created. Following Christ means, as Bonhoeffer noted, being willing to suffer and die, to give oneself for others.

I think he was able to do this because he let himself be touched by the suffering around him and saw Christ Jesus, our Lord, as one who suffered and helps us see the world from the perspective of the suffering.

That’s not easy – but I think it’s essential and, when done with love, can bring deep joy.



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