PSALMS: Life by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Prayer Book of the Bible

Life by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From Psalms

Many earnest Christians are struck as they pray the psalms by how often the petition for life and good fortune occurs.  From a glance at the cross of Christ there comes to many the unhealthy thought that life and the visible, Earthly blessings of God are in themselves at least a questionable good, and in any case a good not to be desired.  They take, then, the corresponding prayers of the Psalter to be an incomplete first stage of Old Testament piety, which is overcome in the New Testament.  But in doing so they want to be more spiritual than God himself.

As the petition for daily bread includes the entire sphere of the necessities of physical life, so the petition for life, health, and visible evidences of the friendliness of God belong necessarily to the prayer which points to the God who is the creator and sustainer of this life.  Bodily life is not disdainful.  Precisely for its sake God has given us his fellowship in Jesus Christ, so that we can live by him in this life and then also, of course, in the life to come.  For this reason he gives us Earthly prayers, so that we can better recognize him, praise him, and love him.  God wants the devout to prosper on Earth (Psalm 37).  And this desire is not set aside by the cross of Christ, but is all the more established by it.  Precisely at the point where men must make many sacrifices in following Jesus, as did the disciples, they will answer, “Nothing!” to the question of Jesus, “Did you lack anything?” (Luke 22:35)  The presupposition for this is the insight of the psalms: “Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked.” (Psalm 37:16)

Therefore we need not have a bad conscience when we pray with the Psalter for life, health, peace, and Earthly goods if we only recognize, as do the psalms themselves, that all of this is evidence of the gracious fellowship of God with us, and we thereby hold fast to the fact that God’s gifts are better than life. (Psalm 63:3 f.; 73:25 f.)

Psalm 103 teaches us to understand the entire fullness of the gifts of God, from the preservation of life to the forgiveness of sins, as a great unity and to come before God thanking and praising him for them (cf. also Psalm 65).  The Creator gives us life and sustains it for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Thus he wants to make us ready, at last through the loss of all Earthly goods in death, to receive eternal life.  Only for the sake of Jesus Christ and at his bidding may we pray concerning the goods of life, and for his sake we ought to do it also with confidence.  But if we receive what we need, then we ought not to cease thanking God from the heart that he is so friendly to us for the sake of Jesus Christ.

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