From the confines of his Nazi imprisonment, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrestled with God. The Lutheran pastor and scholar, arrested for his attempt to overthrow Hitler, had watched his country and Christian community trampled with propaganda and lies. He’d responded with a call for “religion-less Christianity,” a desire for fellow believers to understand that watching with Jesus in Gethsemane meant moving into that liminal space of waiting: waiting for a God who apparently either failed, or has failed to show up.
Jesus’ own words from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” are the watchwords for those in solidarity with the lost, the doubters, the secular unbelievers who find it impossible to believe in a loving God in the face of barbarity and universal misery, to believe in the goodness of Good Friday.
I don’t think I am alone in saying I find Bonhoeffer’s “religion-less Christianity” refreshing, a cup of cold water in an era where “religion” is often despised. In much of our popular media, Christians are vilified as judgmental, censorious, self-righteous prigs who rain on the parade of everyone else. And if believers continue to identify narrowly with this tribal persona, this vilification will only grow louder in the public square. Or worse, the accusations will be partly true.
Believers would do well, then, to ask alongside our unbelieving friends the same hard question: What of this God outside religion?
This God creates a world in which it is possible for children to be mistreated in extreme and unmentionable ways — even gunned down at elementary school. This God creates a world in which women are allowed to be abducted and enslaved to sex purveyors who not only have them continually raped and abused, but sees them turned to stone — their hearts destroyed and every dream of a good married life with children forever denied them. This God creates a world where people can starve and die of malnutrition and dysentery moment to moment ... by the millions.