Bonhoeffer on “Thy Kingdom Come”
The following is from a 1932 retreat lecture given by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In it, he critiques two inadequate and harmful understandings of God’s kingdom that believers hold.
First, he rejects the other-worldly, pietistic view of those who long for a kingdom in another realm beyond this one. This is escapist fantasy that separates believers from the real stuff of life and makes them, in fact, “hostile to the Earth.” “Christ does not lead [humans] into the otherworldliness of religious escapism. Rather, Christ returns [them] to the Earth as its true [children].”
Second, Bonhoeffer speaks critically of Christians who put too much stock in their capacity for transforming the world, whose utopian visions leave God out of the picture, who turn the church into a mere “organization of action for religious-moral reconstruction.” He warns against the illusion that Christians can “assume [God’s] role on earth in loud, boastful strength” and erect a world of justice and peace without God even while using his name.
Instead, Dietrich Bonhoeffer urges Christians to be people who live “in the affirmation of the Earth, in entering into its order, its communities, its history. The two belong completely together. For only where the Earth is fully affirmed can its curse be seriously broken through and destroyed…” In doing this, we must bind ourselves to God, who binds himself to the Earth and who alone is able to overcome its curse.
“Thy kingdom come”—this is not the prayer of the pious soul of the individual who wants to flee the world, nor is it the prayer of the utopian and fanatic, the stubborn world reformer. Rather, this is the prayer only of the church-community of children of the Earth, who do not set themselves apart, who have no special proposals for reforming the world to offer, who are no better than the world, but who persevere together in the midst of the world, in its depths, in the daily life and subjugation of the world. They persevere because they are, in their own curious way, true to this existence, and they steadfastly fix their gaze on that most unique place in the world where they witness, in amazement, the overcoming of the curse, the most profound yes of God to the world. Here, in the midst of the dying, torn, and thirsting world, something becomes evident to those who can believe, believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here the absolute miracle has occurred. Here the law of death is shattered; here the kingdom of God itself comes to us, in our world; here is God’s declaration to the world, God’s blessing, which annuls the curse. This is the event that alone kindles the prayer for the kingdom. It is in this very event that the old Earth is affirmed and God is hailed as lord of the Earth; and it is again this event that overcomes, breaks through, and destroys the cursed Earth and promises the new Earth. God’s kingdom is the kingdom of resurrection on Earth.
• Clifford J. Green, The Bonhoeffer Reader