“… And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever (people) may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas
“God … Use this.”
This is one of my briefest and most oft-prayed prayers. I pray it when I am sitting with someone crying tears of deep grief. I pray it when I am reading a news story about the latest abomination to come out of Washington. I pray it when I am in one of those moments of being confronted by my own behavior – how I have wounded someone … or avoided conflict instead of reaching out in love … or not had the courage to stand up for someone being targeted.
I pray it when I feel powerless and overwhelmed by sadness, anger or brokenness. When “everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it.”
“God … Use this.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew how bad things could get. He had looked evil square in the eye – and didn’t even live to tell the tale. As a pastor during the rise of the Third Reich, a key founding member of the Confessing Church and eventually executed as an anti-Nazi dissident, Bonhoeffer was not prone to talking about clouds with silver linings.
And yet, he remained convinced to his death that no matter how deep the evil, no matter how profound the pain, no matter how shattered the humanity, God could use it for the good. Such is the infinite power of the infinite love that is God. Nothing is beyond being used for God’s good purposes.
“Whatever (people) may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.”
I’ve thought of these words a lot recently. They are not a call to say the evil of the world doesn’t matter or to discount the profundity of the pain and the grief. They are, however, a reminder that there has never been and there never will be a state of affairs so terrible that God cannot find a way to use it.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the residents of what is now Palestine and Israel were living in abject poverty under a cruel occupation … an occupation that was just the latest in a series of occupations that had plagued them throughout history. And yet God entered into this deepest of nights and used it as an incubator of the deepest of joys.
“God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment.”
God looked at the people in suffering and saw the seeds of revolution and liberation. God looked at the cruelty of the Roman Empire and the oppression of the people and said to the divine self:
“I can use that.”
And use it, God did.
And use it, God does.
And use it, God will again.
This Advent, as we read the news, as we sit with family and friends who may be battling grave illness or grieving deep loss, as we confront the ways all of us have fallen short, can we remember that none of these things are beyond the redeeming reach of the God who was able to turn a manger into a throne? Can we help each other remember that our most abject failures are but God’s opportunities for inbreaking grace?
Can we help each other remember to pray “God, Use This?” … and then watch expectantly for what happens next?
From Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena. Originally published in the December 2017 issue of our monthly newsmagazine Saints Alive.