The Mocking Laughter of Hell’s Plan: Valkyrie & Bonhoeffer’s Lament

July 20, 2016 — Leave a comment

DB 1Seventy-two years on, Bonhoeffer’s words speak with a sharp relevance:

I hear men in angry mood. Innumerable voices in wild confusion, a dumb choir assaults the ear of God.
“Hunted by men and maligned, defenceless and guilty to their mind, by intolerable burdens abused, yet we declare them the accused.
We accuse those who drove us to the evil deed, who allowed us to share their guilty seed, who made us witnesses of the just abused, only to despise those they had used.
Our eyes must see violence, entangling us in their guilty offence; then as they silence our voice, like dumb dogs we have no choice.
We learned to call lies just, uniting ourselves with the unjust. When violence was done to the weak, our cold eyes did not speak.
And what in sorrow our hearts had broken, remained hidden and unspoken. We quenched our burning ire and stamped out the inner fire.
Sacred bonds by which we once were bound are now torn and fallen to the ground, friendship and truth betrayed, tears and remorse in ridicule displayed.
We sons from upright men descended, who once rights and truth defended, have now become despisers of God and man, amidst the mocking laughter of hell’s plan
(From Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Nächtliche Stimmen; Voices In The Night)

Bonhoeffer’s poem is a lament. It’s complex and partly sporadic, even though it holds to a basic theme and structure.

Edwin Robertson suggests that Dietrich, who was in prison at the time, was anxious. He had found out that the ‘Valkyrie Plot’ {20th July, 1944} had failed. Consequently he was concerned that the contents of the poem might ‘end up in the wrong hands,’[i] endangering his friends and family.

What is clear from Bonhoeffer’s words in ‘Nächtliche Stimmen’ is that he lamented the conforming silence of the German majority and lamented the necessity of his role in the July plot. There is also a sense of anger at being forced into violence because of an unrelenting assault from those who insist on being violent.

Being an early and loud opponent of mass hysteria, Nazism and a leader of dissent in the Church over the Aryan clause in particular, he was more than aware that the window of opportunity for Christians and Non-Christians to act without force had long since passed.The question that sits over this is, how did we as a people let it get so bad?

Apart from there being very strong political parallels that describe how conservatives are pushed into a corner, where no matter what their response it, it’s tainted by the violence and abuse that cornered them.

There are lessons here for the 21st Century Christian community. For instance: authentic Christian activism ought to be able to neutralise the necessity for extreme action. We can approach the world with a ‘readiness for responsibility’ in spite of its sometimes hostile, virulent and internal opposition.

We see examples of this ‘readiness for responsibility’ in the ‘Acts’ of the Apostles where Peter met with the Roman Centurion, Cornelius (10:1-33), and when Paul spoke to the intellectual elite in the Areopagus Council[ii] (17:22-34).

Learning from the mistakes of the past, being able to employ a ‘readiness for responsibility’[iii], as Bonhoeffer terms it, is about participants being encouraged to avoid rage-based responses. Helping our Christian communities aim for balance without detrimental compromises, empowering others to better discern and persuasively respond when attacks are maliciously calculated in order to elicit a negative reaction.

The Christian response needs to include a deliberate challenge to the over-the-top reactionary position.

It seeks to prevent any damage to the ability of Christians entering into a missional relationship with a hurting and bruised world. Anything short of this restricts healthy dialogue, unnecessarily turning opponents into enemies. Ultimately only succeeding to feed the “mocking laughter of hell’s plan”.

Here also rests the significance of Phillip Yancey’s chilling caveat, when he, citing Friedrich Nietzsche,

‘Will grace, ”the last best word”, the only unsullied theological word remaining in our language, go the way of so many others? In the political arena, has it come to mean its opposite? In another context, Nietzsche gave this warning, which applies to modern Christians: “Be careful, lest in fighting the dragon you become the dragon.” (1997:292) [iv]

 


References:

[i] Robertson, E. 1999 Prison Poems Zondervan Grand Rapids p.66

[ii] ‘The Areopagus included only those of highest status in this university community’,Keener, C. S, 1993. The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. (Ac 17:33–34).

[iii] Bonhoeffer, D. 1944 On the Baptism of D.R. Bethge, in Letters and Poems from Prison, Kindle Ed.

[iv] Yancey, P. 1997 ‘What’s so amazing about Grace?‘ Zondervan

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