Religion & Liberty Online

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the economy of love

(Photo credit: Associated Press)

On August 12, 1943, months after having been arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned, the Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his young fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer:

When I consider the state of the world, the total obscurity enshrouding our personal destiny, and my present imprisonment, our union—if it wasn’t frivolity, which it certainly wasn’t—can only be a token of God’s grace and goodness, which summon us to believe in him. We would have to be blind not to see that. When Jeremiah said, in his people’s hour of direst need, that “houses and fields [and vineyards] shall again be bought in this land,” it was a token of confidence in the future. That requires faith, and may God grant it to us daily. I don’t mean the faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures in the world and loves and remains true to that world in spite of all the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.

Here Bonhoeffer answers a question raised in For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles (FLOW), particularly in the episode on “The Economy of Love.” In this episode, we ask “What is saying ‘yes’ to another person really all about?” For Bonhoeffer, saying “yes” to another person is an affirmation of God’s world and his purposes therein.

Bonhoeffer invokes the example of Jeremiah, another inspiration for the theme of exile that permeates FLOW. In Jeremiah 32 we read about how, with the Babylonian exile looming, the prophet buys a plot of land and passes along this promise: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” Marriage is a “yes” to God’s creation, even in the midst of exile, and a “yes” to God’s purposes for the life of the world.

Here’s a clip from the episode on “The Economy of Love.” It is my personal favorite in the series and I commend it to you this Valentine’s Day weekend.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.