Capacity For Suffering


I was first introduced to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by my ethics professor at Fuller Seminary, Glen Stassen. Dr. Stassen was a passionate Christian ethicist as well as a friend to Eberhard Bethge, who Bonhoeffer often wrote while imprisoned by Nazi Germany. Both Stassen and Bonhoeffer were concerned with the state of Christianity and its entrenchment in nationalism, capitalism, and militarism. Their works in theology and ethics engaged how we can live faithfully as Christians in times of religious and cultural polarization. I have been profoundly influenced by Stassen and Bonhoeffer's courage to address the human condition while developing new forms of Christianity that address the most vital issues concerning humanity. I hope you will find this selection helpful during the final weeks of Lent. Ryan Pryor

“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” so, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:7–10

It must be clear to us that most people learn only through personal experience occurring to their own bodies. First, this explains why most people are remarkably incapable of any sort of preventative action. We keep thinking that we ourselves will be spared when disaster strikes—until it is too late. Second, it explains our insensitivity to the suffering of others; solidarity with suffering arises in proportion to our own increasing fear of imminent doom. We are not responsible for all the injustice and suffering in the world, nor do we wish to judge the whole world. Psychologically, our lack of imagination, sensitivity, and inner readiness is balanced by a kind of unwavering calmness, an undisturbed ability to work, and a great capacity for suffering. This is my second passion-tide here. When people suggest in their letters that I’m “suffering” here, I reject the thought. It seems to me a profanation. These things mustn’t be dramatized. I doubt very much whether I’m “suffering” any more than you, or most people, are suffering today. Of course, a great deal here is horrible, but where isn’t it? No, suffering must be something quite different, and have a quite different dimension, from what I’ve so far experienced.
- Letter to Eberhard Bethge from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in prison, 9 March 1944