Chapter 4: Discipleship and the Cross

Psalm 69

Save me, O God,
   for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
   where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
   and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying;
   my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
   with waiting for my God.

More in number than the hairs of my head
   are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
   my enemies who accuse me falsely.
What I did not steal
   must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly;
   the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me,
   O Lord God of hosts;
do not let those who seek you be dishonoured because of me,
   O God of Israel.
It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
   that shame has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my kindred,
   an alien to my mother’s children.

It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
   the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
When I humbled my soul with fasting,
   they insulted me for doing so.
When I made sackcloth my clothing,
   I became a byword to them.
I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate,
   and the drunkards make songs about me.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
   At an acceptable time, O God,
   in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help rescue me
   from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
   and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me,
   or the deep swallow me up,
   or the Pit close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
   according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Do not hide your face from your servant,
   for I am in distress—make haste to answer me.
Draw near to me, redeem me,
   set me free because of my enemies.

You know the insults I receive,
   and my shame and dishonour;
   my foes are all known to you.
Insults have broken my heart,
   so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
   and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
   and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

Let their table be a trap for them,
   a snare for their allies.
Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
   and make their loins tremble continually.
Pour out your indignation upon them,
   and let your burning anger overtake them.
May their camp be a desolation;
   let no one live in their tents.
For they persecute those whom you have struck down,
   and those whom you have wounded, they attack still more.
Add guilt to their guilt;
   may they have no acquittal from you.
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
   let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
But I am lowly and in pain;
   let your salvation, O God, protect me.

I will praise the name of God with a song;
   I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
   or a bull with horns and hoofs.
Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
   you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy,
   and does not despise his own that are in bonds.

Let heaven and earth praise him,
   the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
   and rebuild the cities of Judah;
and his servants shall live there and possess it;
   the children of his servants shall inherit it,
   and those who love his name shall live in it.


If grace has been cheapened by the Church, then so too has the idea of Christian suffering. Bonhoeffer moves quickly to dismantle two of the ways that suffering has been watered down within the Christian tradition. The first is by distinguishing between suffering that is celebrated and suffering that is rejected. The former, though it sounds odd at first, is quite common. Suffering is celebrated every time we find the suffering of another to be admirable, something the reflects positively upon their character. The latter is suffering that fills us with shame, suffering that causes us to look away, suffering that makes us want to distance ourselves from the afflicted. Christ suffered and Christ was rejected, therefore, as disciples, we too are called to take part in the same suffering and rejection. Bonhoeffer argues that this is the first scandal of the church, when Peter rebuked Jesus for speaking of his coming suffering and death. It is scandalous because the Church does not actually want a messiah who is rejected; we do not want to follow a savior who fills us with shame and makes us want to look away.

The second assault on suffering is in the equivocation of everyday mishaps and misfortunes with the suffering of the cross. Having a car accident, struggling with raising a child, losing a job, and even dealing with illness, though very real sources of suffering in our lives, are not Christian suffering. In Bonhoeffer’s view, the suffering to which we are called as disciples can come only from the act of following Jesus. Anything less is simply empty comfort.

Bonhoeffer ends the chapter by trying to show that the suffering we experience as disciples is not masochistic—it is a part of bridging the gap between God and the world. He argues that suffering is defined as distance from God. When we suffer on account of our faith, we bear the suffering of others; we bear the burden of estrangement—the distance—between others and God. But paradoxically, in our experience of Christian suffering, that distance is closed, for Christ suffers with us and we are united to Christ.


Reflection Questions

Think of a time when you were witness to suffering that was celebrated as well as a time when you were witness to suffering that was rejected. How did you feel witnessing each example? What was your visceral, gut reaction?

Since the very beginning, the Church has been scandalized by the suffering and rejection of Jesus. What are ways that we still, to this day, try to transform Jesus’ suffering and rejection into something less objectionable and less troubling?

Bonhoeffer argues that suffering, at its root, is distance from God. Where in our world today do we see that distance most clearly? Find a specific, concrete example. How might we, as disciples, help bear the burden of that distance?