The this-worldliness of Christianity
During the last year or so I've come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldiness of Christianity. The Christian is not homo religiosus, but simply man, as Jesus was a man—in contrast shall we say, to John the Baptist. I don't mean the shallow and banal this-worldiness of the enlightened, the busy, the comfortable, or the lascivious, but the profound this-worldliness, characterized by discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection. I think Luther lived a this-worldly life in this sense.—From Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison
I remember a conversation that I had in America thirteen years ago with a young French pastor. We were asking ourselves quite simply what we wanted to do with our lives. He said he would like to become a saint (and I think it's quite likely that he did become one). At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith. For a long time I didn't realize the depth of the contrast. I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like it. I suppose I wrote The Cost of Discipleship as the end of that path. Today I can see the dangers of that book, though I still stand by what I wrote.
I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In doing so we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian (cf. Jeremiah 45!). How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God's sufferings through a life of this kind?
Bonhoeffer wanted to emphasize a connection between the Christian and this very real world of God's creation rather than some spirituality disconnected from day-to-day life. Is he right that, "it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith?"
Note: It is perhaps ironic, and definitely appropriate, that Bonhoeffer did not pursue being a saint and yet the Episcopal Church honors the pastor and theologian as a saint, marking April 9—the day he was hung at Flossenburg Prison—as his day in our calendar of saints known as Lesser Feasts and Fasts.