On Peace and Security by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

There is no way to peace on the way to security. For peace must be ventured, is the one great venture, and can never, ever be secured. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand security is to have mistrust, and this mistrust in turn gives birth to war. Seeking security means wanting to protect oneself.

On Peace and Security

The Church and the Nations

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

[This address from August 28, 1934 on Fanö is translated from the German on the Internet, https://pazifismusundtheologie.blogspot.com/2010/05/23-dietrich-bonhoeffer.html and is available on the Internet, https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2023/10/08/18859418.php.]

“Oh that I should hear what the Lord speaks, that he should promise peace to his people and to his saints” (Ps. 85:9).

“Between the cliffs of nationalism and internationalism, ecumenical Christianity cries out for its Lord and His direction. Nationalism and internationalism are questions of political necessity and possibility. But ecumenism does not ask about these , but about the commandments of God and calls these commandments of God without consideration into the middle of the world.

As a member of the ecumenical movement, the World Alliance for Friendship of Churches has heard God’s call to peace and sends this command to the world. Our theological task here is therefore solely to hear this command as a binding command and not to discuss it as an open question. “Peace on earth” is not a problem, but a commandment given with the appearance of Christ Himself. To the commandment there is a double behavior: the unconditional, blind obedience of the deed or the hypocritical question of the serpent: should God have said? This question is the mortal enemy of obedience, is therefore the mortal enemy of every real peace. Shouldn’t God have known human nature better and know that wars must come in this world like laws of nature? Shouldn’t God have meant that we should talk about peace, but not put it into practice so literally? Shouldn’t God have said that we should work for peace, but that we should provide tanks and poison gas to secure it? And then the seemingly most serious: Should God have said, Thou shalt not protect thy people; Should God have said, Thou shalt abandon thy neighbor to the enemy?

No, God did not say all that, but said that peace should be among men, that we should obey him above all other questions, that is what he meant. Whoever questions God’s command before he obeys has already denied him.

Peace should be because Christ is in the world, i.e. peace should be because there is a church of Christ, for whose sake alone the whole world still lives. And this church of Christ lives at the same time in all nations and yet beyond all boundaries of a national, political, social, racial nature, and the brothers of this church are bound more inseparably by the commandment of the one Lord Christ, to which they listen, than all the bonds of history, blood, classes and languages can bind people. All these bonds of an inner-worldly nature are valid, not indifferent, but before Christ they are not final. That is why the members of the ecumenical community, if they remain in Christ, consider his word and commandment of peace more sacred, more unbreakable than the most sacred words and works of the natural world, because they know: He who cannot hate father and mother for his own sake is not worthy of him who lies when he calls himself a Christian. These brethren through Christ obey his word, and neither doubt nor question, but keep his commandment of peace, and are not ashamed even to speak of everlasting peace in defiance of the world. They cannot turn weapons against each other because they know that by doing so they are turning weapons on Christ himself. For them, in all the anguish and distress of conscience, there is no evasion of Christ’s command that there be peace.

How does peace become? Through a system of political treaties? Through investment of international capital in the various countries? I.e. through the big banks, through money? Or even by an all-round peaceful armament for the purpose of securing peace? No, not by all this for one reason, because here everywhere peace and security are confused. There is no way to peace on the way to security. For peace must be ventured, is the one great venture, and can never, ever be secured. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand security is to have mistrust, and this mistrust in turn gives birth to war. Seeking security means wanting to protect oneself. Peace means to surrender completely to God’s command, not to want security, but to place the history of the nations in the hands of Almighty God in faith and obedience and not to want to dispose of them selfishly. Battles are not won with weapons, but with God. They are still won even where the path leads to the cross. Who of us can say that he would know what it could mean for the world if a people – instead of with the weapon in the hand – would receive the attacker praying and defenseless and therefore just armed with the only good defense and weapon? (Gideon:… of the people is too much, which is with you…God carries out here himself the disarmament (judge 7).

Once again therefore: How does peace become? Who calls for peace, that the world hears it, is forced to hear it? That all nations must be glad about it? The individual Christian cannot do this – he can indeed, where all are silent, raise his voice and bear witness, but the powers of the world can pass over him without a word. The individual church can also testify and suffer – if only it would – but it too is crushed by the violence of hatred. Only the one great ecumenical council of the Holy Church of Christ from all over the world can say it in such a way that the world must grudgingly hear the word of peace and that the nations will be glad because this Church of Christ, in the name of Christ, takes the weapons out of the hands of her sons and forbids them war and proclaims the peace of Christ over the raging world.

Why do we fear the howls of rage of the world powers? Why don’t we rob them of their power and give it back to Christ? We can still do it today. The ecumenical council is gathered, it can send out this radical call to peace to the believers in Christ. The peoples are waiting for it in the East and the West. Do we have to be put to shame by the pagans in the East? [ according to the testimony of contemporary witnesses, Bonhoeffer is thinking of Gandhi] Should we leave the individuals who dare to risk their lives to the message? The hour is hastening – the world is staring in arms and distrust looks terribly from all eyes, the war fanfare can be blown tomorrow – what are we waiting for? Do we ourselves want to become complicit as never before?

What help me crown and country and gold and honor? They could not make me happy! ‘Tis war, alas – and I desire not to be guilty of it! (M. Claudius)

We want to speak to this world, not half a word, but a whole word, a courageous word, a Christian word. Let us pray that this word may be given to us – today – who knows if we will find ourselves next year?” (D. Bonhoeffer, Collected .Writings Volume I 1958 pp. 216-219)

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