Rowan Williams on self-judgment
Bonhoeffer writes [in a poem on his imprisonment], “They often tell me / I would step from my cell’s confinement / calmly, cheerfully, firmly, / like a squire from his country-house.” … But the poem is about the great gulf between what “they” see – a confident, adult, rational, prayerful, faithful, courageous person – and what he knows is going on inside: the weakness and the loss and the inner whimpering and dread. “So which is me?” Bonhoeffer asks. Is it the person they see, or the person I know when I’m on my own with myself? And his answer is surprising and blunt: I haven’t got a clue; God has got to settle that. I don’t have to decide if I’m really brave or really cowardly, whether I’m really confident or really frightened, or both. Who I am is in the hands of God. … It goes beyond the assumption that I am only what I see or know. It tells me that I am more than I realize, in the eyes of God, for good or ill. It tells me to hope in “what is unseen”…, in the one who doesn’t need to be told about how human beings work because he knows the human heart.
From Being Disciples (Eerdmans, 2016), 29-30.
Rowan Williams on the work of doctrine
the job of doctrine is to hold us still before Jesus. When that slips out of view, we begin instead to use this language to defend ourselves, to denigrate others, to control and correct — and then it becomes a problem.
A recognition of this inspired Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s great challenge to ‘religious’ language in the meditation he wrote for his godson from prison in May 1944.
Reconciliation and redemption, regeneration and the Holy Spirit, love of our enemies, cross and resurrection, life in Christ and Christian discipleship — all these things are so difficult and so remote that we hardly venture any more to speak of them. In the traditional words and acts we suspect that there may be something quite new and revolutionary, though we cannot as yet grasp or express it. That is our own fault. […]
It is not that the words are mistaken, or that they are — in the glib modern sense — irrelevant, so that we need clearer and simpler ideas. Far from it. The problem lies in the speakers. There is not enough depth in us for the words to emerge as credible; they have become external to us, tokens we use while forgetting what profound and frightening differences in the human world they actually refer to. If the point of traditional doctrinal forms is to hold us still, it is also, we could say, to create a depth in us, a space for radical change in how we think of ourselves and how we act.
from Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles our Judgment, (Eerdmans, 2000), 37-38.