Bonhoeffer Thursdays: God is no stop-gap

It has again brought home to me quite clearly how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know; God wants us to realize his presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved. That is true of the relationship between God and scientific knowledge, but it is also true of the wider human problems of death, suffering, and guilt. It is now possible to find, even for these questions, human answers that take no account whatever of God. In point of fact, people deal with these questions without God (it has always been so), and it is simply not true to say that only Christianity has the answers to them. As to the idea of ‘solving’ problems, it may be that the Christian answers are just as unconvincing – or convincing – as any others. Here again, God is no stop-gap; he must be recognized as the centre of life, not when we are at the end of our resources; it is his will to be recognized in life, and not only when death comes; in health and vigour, and not only in suffering; in our activities, and not only in sin. The ground for this lies in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. He is the centre of life, and he certainly didn’t ‘come’ to answer our unsolved problems. From the centre of life certain questions, and their answers, are seen to be wholly irrelevant (I’m thinking of the judgment pronounced on Job’s friends). In Christ there are not ‘Christian problems’. – Enough of this; I’ve just been disturbed again.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Letters and Papers from Prison


(I have compiled a comprehensive collection of excerpts from Letters and Papers from Prison that are related to Bonhoeffer’s concepts of “religionless Christianity,” “Christianity in a world come of age,” and other related matters. View the PDF document.)

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