I pre-ordered Laura Fabrycky’s book, Keys to BonHoeffer’s House, back in January, and was fortunate to have my local independent bookstore ship it to me last week despite being closed due to the coronavirus. I haven’t been able to put it down since I pulled it from my mailbox.
Bonhoeffer, a theologian living in Nazi-occupied Germany, was so bothered by the senseless suffering of the Jews that he became involved in the resistance, and was ultimately executed by the Nazis. Fabrycky is a volunteer tour guide at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s historic house in Berlin, and this particular passage stood out to me:
Obviously, Bonhoeffer made his peace with the hard path. The “normal course of life” was not going to be his. The times offered that normal course to no one. To chart a course of career success in that political and social environment necessitated so much moral corruption, so much ethical atrophy. While it is right to honor him, and I do, it’s better to think of him not in terms of heroism and success — even moral success — but to see his life as a masterpiece in the art of dying, a fully lived study in the ars moriendi (the art of dying).
Perhaps it’s morbid to focus on “the art of dying” as thousands of people all over the world are dying from the coronavirus. But this is one major theme of Good Friday, happening next week, so it’s rather timely for Christians.
Most of us won’t die like Christ or Bonhoeffer: cruelly executed by our respective corrupt governments. But this “art of dying,” or as the Bible calls it, “dying to self,” has always been applicable to the Christian life. Perhaps it’s more applicable now than ever for most of us, because of all the sacrifices we’ve had to make during Lent this year: cancelled weddings and baby showers, job losses, our daily routines completely upended. These things are not literal deaths, but they are like small deaths, in a sense. And we grieve for them.
Fabrycky takes care to point out how wealthy and privileged Bonhoeffer was, and how he could have chosen the easy road that would have allowed him to survive the war. He could have “stayed in his lane,” ignoring the suffering of those in other lanes he might never cross into. But the Christian life calls for a higher standard than that. Jesus also could have had an easy life, but chose to shed his divine privileges, choosing a life of poverty.
In this pandemic, supplies and resources are short. “Dying to self” may not look like putting ourselves on the front lines caring for the sick and dying (unless you’re in the medical field). For most of us, it can look like sacrificing our comfort and privilege to help those who have neither. Maybe it’s sharing your stash of toilet paper with someone who is about to run out. Maybe it’s donating some of your pantry stock to a family who has no money left for groceries after paying their rent. Or donating what you can from your income to a local food bank.
It’s very tempting to hoard our wealth in general, but especially so during this time of widespread panic and uncertainty. Comfort and privilege are not inherently sinful by themselves, but that is not where our ultimate security should be placed. If my stint of living paycheck to paycheck taught me anything, it’s that every one of us is one emergency away from going bankrupt — no matter how responsible you are with finances in general. No matter how tightly we hold to money and comfort, they are not ours to keep. These things are gifts, and if we are truly grateful, we will share them.
The face of Christ is in those who are struggling, and always has been. When you “leave your lane” to help someone struggling, you aren’t just giving to your literal neighbors; you are sharing your toilet paper with Jesus. You are offering canned soup and boxed rice to Jesus. Everything we do for our neighbor, we do for the Lord. Basking in comfort and privilege, ignoring the suffering of those around us, is never an option.