Yesterday was the commemoration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was martyred for his opposition to the Nazis. He considered taking refuge in the United States, where he was teaching, but he returned to Germany to continue his work in the resistance. He was arrested April 5, 1943 and imprisoned in Berlin. Three days later two men came to his cell with a chilling order. “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.” He said to a fellow prisoner, “This is the end. For me, the beginning of life.” The next day, April 9th, he was hanged.
In his famous book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer writes, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
We ought to all just pause for a moment and ponder that kind of grace, the costly kind.
Reflect for a moment on the kind we prefer. This, by Wilbur Rees, is more my speed.
I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please—not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love an enemy or pick beets with a migrant; I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please.
We can’t all be a Bonhoeffer, and we’re not meant to be. But today we can open ourselves to receive grace. The “cost” of receiving this precious gift is only the laying down of our old lives, the loss that turns out to be our greatest gain. Why—remind me again—why would we not take that “loss” every time?
Cathy H. says
It’s kind of interesting; if we are willing to pay the cost – and it’s big – we will gain way more than we give. Do we hesitate because we don’t necessarily “see” the results of God’s grace? Or is it just that we satisfy ourselves with the cheap grace we “bestow” on ourselves? Why, indeed.
Good questions all. The thing about this truth is–it can only be experienced from the inside. You have to let something go and see what actually happens. And we mostly want to sit on the sidelines and speculate about these things. That can give us knowledge ABOUT God, but not an actual experience of the living God. So…we have to jump in. Which scares me—I don’t know about you!
Cathy H. says
I like your answer, “it can only be experienced from the inside.” Scares me, too, but lately the phrase that keeps popping up is, “leap of faith.” I’m not a natural leap-er, but I’m finding it tends to be the initial step that’s scary; what comes after is pretty awesome.
dear david, thanks for the reminders about Bonhoeffer. He is admirable beyond belief — what grace in the midst of terror — but I find his writings too stern at times. You’ve done a good job in opening him up for others. Best, Leslie
Yes, there is a kind of German pietism in Bonhoeffer that I don’t resonate with. But hey–I am loathe to judge when the outcome in his life was so powerfully beautiful. So, as you say, I try to translate the essence of it into a different tradition.
Michael Riddell says
I’ve never been religious, more spiritual, considering the Universe to be a more general force higher than myself. I think your $3 concept, though, is an interesting one.
J. B. Horton says
The idea that the amount of God we want is sufficient for the amount of God we need is glaringly alive today. Thank You for reminding me that the value of God in our lives is not in the external things but is to be found in the internal relationship with Him. If the truth be told, we cannot handle $3. Worth of God without the riches of His priceless and immeasurable Grace. To know Him convinces us that even $3. Worth of Him is sufficient to meet our every need.