November 29, 2013 By 

So, this arrived on my doorstep about two weeks ago.

I agreed to read and write on The Bonhoeffer Reader for the Patheos Book Clubbecause I’ve always wanted to know more about Bonhoeffer and his theology. But I didn’t know the book would be so big. (The photo doesn’t quite convey its heft. It’s really, really big.) I knew I wouldn’t be able to read the whole book in the short time I had before the Patheos deadline for book club entries, and I was right. I made it through Bonhoeffer’s Creation and Fallplus a few other short lectures. To be completely honest, I didn’t understand all of it. I struggle with straight-up theology, and gravitate more readily to story and poetry.

But I was captivated by Bonhoeffer’s description, in Creation and Fall, of the “anxiety-causing middle” in which people live. We did not witness the beginning of creation and we do not know its end, so we are dwelling in a middle place of uncertainty concerning where we come from and where we are going. Sounds a lot like daily life, doesn’t it? When Bonhoeffer writes that “….you do not wish to live without the beginning, without the end, because being in the middle causes you anxiety,” I also thought of my recent Christian Century article about the need for stories that leave intact the messy, tension-filled reality of life rather than transforming our stories into shiny, clean-edged morality tales. When we make a story into a morality tale, we impose a clear narrative arc with a defined ending where it becomes clear who or what was right or wrong, good or bad, compassionate or villainous. This temptation comes from the same fundamental anxiety that Bonhoeffer speaks of in our relationship with God as creator—an anxiety about dwelling in the middle, without knowing the beginning and end.

In contemplating creation, Bonhoeffer also says that God’s word (the biblical creation account), as “the word of a book, the word of a pious human being, is wholly a word that comes from the middle and not from the beginning. In the beginning God created….This word, spoken and heard as a human word, is the form of a servant in which from the beginning God encounters us and in which God alone wills to be found.” While the Bible obviously stands apart from and above the many words that we produce today, the idea of word as a servant through which God speaks to us and through which we encounter God also resonated with me as a writer. So often, the act of writing, of choosing words to describe inward or outward experiences, leads to revelation and sheds light into the shadows.

Finally, it strikes me that Bonhoeffer’s life itself testifies that God can use our anxiety-riddled middle places to point toward the God who is beginning and end.

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