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Coronavirus, Bonhoeffer and 'divine interruption'

Bonhoeffer would have seen this pandemic as an opportunity to reorder our priorities, says Will van der Hart

I was reading a segment of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together in the garden this week. He says, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans…”

Bonhoeffer’s own life was interrupted by the second world war and then cut desperately short in Flossenbürg concentration camp.

I realise that I have been feeling as much anxiety about the interruption to my plans as I have been about getting physically sick. My life up to this point has been so diarised, every moment has been allocated to work, family or charity. I even have a stock email about bookings needing to be made six months or more ahead of time! I have been so busy doing what my schedule dictates that I have not considered the divine interruptions God has been offering me.

When I am feeling unsettled, I often return to the most familiar stories of scripture. Like an old friend, their wisdom is comfortable and obvious. I was settling into Luke 10; The Good Samaritan and noticed that the characters in the story were all "going down the same road" (v31): In the same way, we are often living with automatic assumptions and priorities, particularly around success and failure. We plan our lives accordingly.

Catastrophe struck in the form of robbers (but it could have been a pandemic), who left the man "half dead". Then a priest and a Levite walked past the broken body of the beaten man. I guess that they epitomise so much of what is being shaken collectively and individually right now: It wasn’t their problem; he was a diversion that they weren’t willing to take.

Bonhoeffer’s point is not that we simply "hear the divine interruptions" but that we "allow ourselves to be interrupted". While sitting in the garden I was surprised by the volume of the birdsong and wondered if it was unusual. Then I realised that this is probably the first time in a few years that I have been still enough to hear it: God is always speaking, but we aren’t often listening.

God is always speaking, but we aren’t often listening

I am wondering now if I am finally willing to hear, but it isn’t comfortable! Like many anxiety sufferers, I have become addicted to activity and scheduling in order to distract myself from my worries. My busyness is a product of culture, ambition and illness, not something that is easily broken on a whim. Yet I feel that it must break, not just for the sake of my living attentively, but so that I might live more compassionately.

The Samaritan had every cultural and social excuse not to attend to the wounded man. Yet, he allowed himself to be interrupted. No doubt he had a schedule and worthy plans, but he expended his resources of time and compassion in response to God’s directing.

This interruption to life is an opportunity to reorder our priorities so that we might be more able and willing to hear. God is diverting us to compassionately meet the needs of others in Jesus name, putting Paul’s teaching practise into when he says, “To do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

It is a chance to desist from judging ourselves against our ability to sustain the pace of the world and finally break free from going down the same ‘old road’ of perceived success. God is shaking the foundations of our heavily scheduled, over busy and inattentive lives. He is stirring new a compassion in us and with it; a willingness to forego our own plans to make his compassion real in the lives of others.

Hear more from Will on the latest episode of The Profile podcast

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