|Suffering and Redemption|
'The Faith, Given Once for All'
The young man was alone in his room, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He knew he had a big decision to make. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been a leader of the German resistance against Hitler, but when he was ordered into the armed forces, church authorities helped him escape to safety in America.
But was America where God wanted him to be? Pacing his room at Union Theological Seminary, the young pastor tried to understand the unease that had come over him. By the summer of 1939, his mind was made up. He had heard a fundamentalist preacher preach the true Gospel. He knew he had to return to Germany to minister to his people and share their fate.
Six years later, implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler, Bonhoeffer was executed.
As I write in my new book, The Faith, Bonhoeffer’s consecrated life is a model for all of us—a total giving of self to Christ. Most of us will not be tested in this way, but we may be sure of one thing: We will be tested.
For example, we may endure real agony over the suffering in the world, as Mother Teresa did, and that she persevered against all hope is the best proof of faith. Or we may feel that years of work for the Lord have come to naught. We do not always see the fruit of our labor.
And then there is the intense physical suffering. Could you and I endure the suffering of Bonhoeffer, or of Christians who suffer under Islamic rule today?
But suffering is, as Bonhoeffer teaches us, the cost of discipleship; it belongs to our calling as Christians. After their first arrest, the apostles left the Sanhedrin’s court “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).
In many places today, Christians are called to suffer persecution for the sake of the Gospel. In scores of other countries—India, Iran, Burma—believers risk their lives by even professing Christ.
The real question is not whether we will suffer, but how we will react to suffering when it comes. We can see it as a miserable experience to be endured, or we can offer it to God for His redemptive purposes. This is the great truth Christians know: God will always use what we suffer for Christ’s work of redemption if we let Him.
Suffering is rightly called “the school of faith”; it is only through difficulties and setbacks that we are brought to the end of ourselves and forced to trust God alone.
No wonder so many believers have said with the Apostle Paul that they long for “the fellowship of sharing in Jesus’ suffering” (Philippians 3:10).
Why, then, should we expect, if we are going to draw ever closer to Christ, that we should be exempt? Would not God use our suffering in our lives for the same purpose He used suffering in the life of Christ? To tell people life is going to be easy with God—no sickness, disease, and all material blessings—is heresy.
[Sixty]-three years after the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his willingness to suffer and die for Christ is still bringing people to the foot of the Cross. Are you and I willing to suffer as he suffered, for just such a cause?
I hope you will read my new book, The Faith—and learn more about why suffering is the mark of true faith.
This commentary first aired on February 6, 2008, and is part three in a five-part series.
Charles Colson on Politics and the Christian Faith—call 1-877-322-5527 to learn more about this four-part DVD curriculum.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Touchstone, 1995).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community (HarperOne, 1978).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (Touchstone, 1997).
John de Gruchy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ (Making of Modern Theology) (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1991).
BreakPoint Commentary No. 990304, “The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Costly Grace.”
BreakPoint Commentary No. 980702, “Be Strong and Courageous: The Imitation of Christ.”
BreakPoint Commentary No. 000614, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace.”