Christians and Pagans – A Bonhoeffer Interruption

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

  • Matthew 20:26-28

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

  • Mark 10:45

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

  • Matthew 22:13-14

“Men go to God when they are sore bestead,
Pray to him for succour, for his peace, for bread,
For mercy for them sick, sinning, or dead;
All men do so, Christian and unbelieving.

“Men go to God when he is sore bestead,
Find him poor and scorned, without shelter or bread,
Whelmed under weight of the wicked, the weak, the dead;
Christians stand by God in his hour of grieving.

“God goeth to every man when sore bestead,
Feedeth body and spirit with his bread;
For Christians, pagans alike he hangeth dead,
And both alike forgiving.”

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

For those expecting the second installment in the Freedom Stations four-parter, I apologize.  I started the series last week not thinking that today would be Easter Sunday, and then two pages before the Freedom Stations poem was this one.  I was thumbing through the book and my fingers got stuck on the previous two pages of the book.  Funny how God gets your attention at times.  I will continue the Freedom Stations series next Sunday with taking action, now that we have learned to be disciplined.

There is a subtle difference in Bonhoeffer’s first two verses in the quote above, entitled Christian and Pagan.  Everyone – that is true believers, those saying they are Christians and not believing, and non-believers – will pray to God under times of deep distress.  It is like the poem of unknown origin about God and the soldier being relied upon in war, but when war has ended and all is righted, God is forgotten, and the soldier slighted.

That is the thrust of the first verse of the poem.

The second is quite similar, but the last line shows that the Christian stands with God.  There are two big things that this illustrates, and another.  First, true believers do not blame God for the calamity.  It is a test of faith like so many others.  Second, the true believer has Jesus in their hearts with the Holy Spirit guiding them.  They may not be able to make sense out of their calamity, but they rely on God within them to endure.  That is something that the non-believer does not have.  The non-believer must endure alone.

And the “another” that I mentioned is that the non-believer, in times of great distress, tests God with the prayer and even taunts God.  “God, I am at my wit’s end.  IF you pull me through this, then, and only then, will I believe in you.”  But once things are righted, the non-believer rationalizes that maybe it was not that bad after all, a miracle was not really needed, and they renege on their “bargain,” even when a miracle happened before their eyes.

But then the third verse ties in with the Easter season.  Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world.

That leads us to either a theological issue or merely some antics with semantics.  Did Jesus die for all?  In Matthew and Mark, the story is told, with Jesus speaking, that the Son of Man died as ransom for many.  It does not state “all.”

Was the sacrifice that Jesus made sufficient so that if everyone believed in Him they would be saved?  Yes.  But Jesus, as He prays in John 17, died for those whom the Father had given Him.  As the Scripture from Matthew 22 states, many are invited, but few are chosen.  Yet, anyone can come to the Savior, no matter what they have done in the past.

I have rarely had any heartburn over Bonhoeffer’s theology, and I think in this case, he is being poetic while expressing that the death of Jesus on the cross is sufficient for all who come to Him with repentant hearts, accepting Jesus, and believing and trusting in Jesus for everything.  But then, is the pagan a pagan any longer?  Or is the pagan like all other Christian, a sinner saved by Grace?  There will still be time to smooth out the rough edges.

And the third verse in Bonhoeffer’s poem, also shifts the focus.  The first two verses show Man turning to God in hard times, but the third verse shows God reaching out to Man.  When God’s hand sweeps by in our personal storm, all we need to do is grab His hand and hold on tight.  God does the heavy lifting and the rescue.


Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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