Praying with the Psalms as Guilty Sinners and Innocent Saints – D. Bonhoeffer

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferIn connection with his treatment of the “penitential Psalms” (That is, prayers for repentance), D. Bonhoeffer writes:

The Christian will find scarcely any difficulties in the praying of these Psalms. However, the question could arise as to how one is to think about the fact that Christ also prays these Psalms with us. How can the sinless one ask for forgiveness? In no way other than he can, as the sinless one, bear the sins of the world and be made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Not for the sake of his sins, but for the sake of our sins, which he has taken upon himself and for which he suffers, does Jesus pray for the forgiveness of sins. He positions himself entirely for us. He wants to be a man before God as we are. So he prays also the most human of all prayers with us and thereby demonstrates precisely that he is the true Son of God.

And then, in connection with the prayers of the saints in which they declare their innocence, he writes:

But the question is not which possible motives may stand behind the prayer, but whether the content of the prayer itself is appropriate or inappropriate. And here it is clear that the believing Christian certainly has to say not only something about his guilt but also something equally important about his innocence and his justification. It is characteristic of the faith of the Christian that through God’s grace and the merit of Jesus Christ he has become entirely justified and guiltless in God’s eyes, so that ‘there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). And it is characteristic of the prayer of the Christian to hold fast to this innocence and justification which has come to him, appealing to God’s word and thanking for it.

So not only are we permitted, but directly obligated – provided we take God’s action to us at all seriously – to pray in all humiliation and certainty: ‘I was blameless before him and I kept myself from guilt’ (Psalm 18:23)…. With such a prayer we stand in the center of the New Testament, in the community of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Quoted in Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the twelfth section, “Guilt” (pp.50-55), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for these excerpts from Bonhoeffer’s book. I found them interesting enough to pick up a copy.

    For such a small book, I am amazed at the depth of insight it offers. It has brought me a new appreciation of the Psalms each day as I read and sing them.

    Like


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