In contemporary times in Nigeria, Christians face persecution on a daily basis due to their faith. Christians are not only denied access to education, stable employment, excellent infrastructure, and development, but we also face discrimination in the community where I live. The possibility of an attack by our Muslim neighbors also exists. My dear cousin, who attended Polytechnic in Mubi, passed away, and I am still plagued by the terrible memory of that event. There were thousands of displaced people and numerous fatalities when Boko Haram invaded Mubi. Muslims who come to our area as herdsmen are attempting to take over our ancestral lands, especially Christian farmers, are persecuted. Rural Christians are frequently driven from their farms through guerilla warfare and raiding techniques. A Christian farmer’s crops and means of subsistence are frequently destroyed when herdsmen let their cows graze on their property. In the same way, my older brother lost a hectare of crops last year. It was so damaged on his farm that he was unable to gather even a single grain. My brother believed that he wouldn’t receive a fair trial and that pursuing the law might lead to more community raids. He therefore chose not to file a lawsuit. The family’s faith in Christ allowed them to bear this terrible loss. Numerous Christians in this place have similar experiences.

Our community holds that suffering is a result of evil, brought about by human sin and a fallen world. Our world is broken, which is why suffering exists in our lives. Some suffering stems from our bad and sinful decisions, but some are just the result of the fall of the world. As stated by Prof., who references Romans 8:20–23 in his video lecture, this aspect of suffering should make us yearn for a better world—one that has been redeemed and set free from sin—one that God will eventually return to establish.

Reflection on Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison

Human suffering is a communal rather than an individualistic experience that impacts the victim as well as his/her community, especially the people closest to them. In Bonhoeffer’s reading, we will notice that his family and friends are quite concerned for his wellbeing. Bonhoeffer writes in his letter, “The only thing that bothers me or would bother me is the thought that you are being tormented by anxiety about me, and are not sleeping or eating properly. Forgive me for causing you so much worry…”[1] A number of years ago, bandits abducted one of our pastors and demanded a large sum of money as ransom. His predicament had an impact on the Lutheran Church as a whole in addition to his family. As a poor community, we were concerned not only about his life and well-being at the hands of these evil bandits but also about how we would raise the necessary funds to save him. And so the church as a whole suffered alongside him.

Second, it is clear from the text that suffering people naturally yearn for love and care. For instance, we need the consoling words of friends and family when we are struggling or have lost someone very special to us. When he receives letters and parcels from his family, Bonhoeffer says how happy he is; “You can’t imagine what it means to be suddenly told: ‘Your mother and sister and brother have just been here, and they’ve left something for you.’ The mere fact that you have been near me, the tangible evidence that you are still thinking and caring about me (which of” course I really know anyway!) is enough to keep me happy for the rest of the day.”[2]

Another thing I learned about the nature of suffering in the writings of Bonhoeffer is that suffering humbles us and strengthens our faith in Christ. In explaining what he meant by “this worldliness” to his friend Eberhard, Bonhoeffer states; “I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes, and failures, experiences, and perplexities. In so doing 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.”[3]

Finally, I’ve discovered that, despite the fact that it may not always be apparent, there is always hope for liberation in the midst of suffering. Similar to the pastor I mentioned earlier, we all pray and hope that one day he will be freed, and we all hope for his freedom, all of Bonhoeffer’s family looked forward to their reunion. His father wrote; “We know you, and so we are confident that everything will turn out well – and, we hope, soon.” His brother Karl-Frederick also wrote; “Of course we all very much hope that by now you will soon have the time of testing behind you and will soon be released again.”[4]

Final Thought

I may not have experienced the same kind of circumstance as Bonhoeffer, but if I were to, God forbid, have to go through it for the sake of my faith, I might respond differently from him, particularly in terms of his capacity to find joy in his suffering, maintain focus, and look forward to his dream. The only consolation I could find in my brief experiences of suffering were the consoling words from friends and family. The anguish of betrayal and trauma prevented me from thinking of my dreams.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, (SCM Press, Ltd., Touchstone Edition, 1997), p. 29

[2] Ibid. p. 33

[3] Ibid. ch. IV. p. 29

[4] Ibid. pp. 28 & 31