If I could find the stamina, I’d like to pick up Metaxas’s big biography and sit down with Dietrich Bonhoeffer for the rest of the summer, reading his words, his wisdom, his sermons, his German heritage, his spy work against Hitler, his imprisonment, his love story, his death. History is one of the things I miss most about school: meeting someone new from time past, someone I wish I was more like. So when I can steal the book off Trent’s bed, I’ve been catching snatches of his story.
Bonhoeffer understood the difference between what I’ve heard called the “natural” and the “supernatural,” where we stand on a ho-hum earth and wait for a glorious heaven.
But he married the two.
For him, the “supernatural” or “spiritual” weren’t pitted against his work as a spy and imprisoned pastor, like two railroad tresses that run forever but never meet. There was (and is) intersection — where what’s supernatural lies inside of what’s natural. Worship in an underground seminary. God in a prison cell.
Drinking theology wasn’t enough. Bonhoeffer knew there had to be a downspout, where truths about God spilled into the world and worked themselves into real, dry places.
“If you read history,” Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next,” and Bonhoeffer is one of those rare souls who lived between two worlds without stretching himself thin. From prison, he wrote to his fiancée, Maria:
“…May God grant [faith] to us daily. I don’t mean the faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures in the world and loves and remains true to the world in spite of the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.”[i]
A few thousand years run between Bonhoeffer and another saint who stood with two legs on God’s earth.
In Acts 6, Stephen was chosen to serve the widows’ tables because he was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). Then, the religious leaders called on him to give an answer for the hope inside him, so he preached history, grace, and repentance straight from the Torah. They hurled stones at his head for it, but he stood ready for that, too.
Parsing out food for hungry widows is what we might call natural. Kneeling in a pit and looking up to see Jesus welcoming you into his glory is supernatural.
Here’s the intersection: Stephen had seen Jesus long before he saw him on his throne. He’d seen him in the widows and dishes and church needs. Like Bonhoeffer, he reminds me to say “yes” to God’s good, broken earth while I’m here, because supernatural light cuts through the cracks of every pit and prison cell — even into my weeding and sweeping and reading history on July afternoons.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
[i] Metaxas, Eric. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. (Thomas Nelson, 2010: Nashville, TN), 456