Posted by: sean | December 8, 2008

Isn’t Pacifism Impossible in the Real World? (2)

from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

How then can the precept of Jesus be justified in the light of experience? It is obvious that weakness and defenselessness only invite aggression. Is then the demand of Jesus nothing but an impractical ideal? Does he refuse to face up to realities–or shall we say, to the sin of the world? There may of course be a legitimate place for such an ideal in the inner life of the Christian community, but in the outside world such an ideal appears to wear the blinkers of perfectionism, and to take no account of sin. Living as we do in a world of sin and evil, we can have no truck with anything as impracticable as that.

Jesus, however, tells us that it is just because we live in the world, and just because the world is evil, that the precept of non-resistance must be put into practice. Surely we do no wish to accuse Jesus of ignoring the reality and power of evil! Why, the whole of his life was one long conflict with the devil. He calls evil evil, and that is the very reason why he speaks to his followers in this way. How is that possible?

If we took the precept of non-resistance as an ethical blueprint for general application, we should indeed be indulging in idealistic dreams: we should be dreaming of a utopia with laws which the world would never obey. To make non-resistance a principle for secular life is to deny God, by undermining his gracious ordinance for the preservation of the world. But Jesus is no draughtsman of political blue-prints, he is the one who vanquished evil through suffering. It looked as though evil had triumphed on the cross, but the real victory belonged to Jesus. And the cross is the only justification for the precept of non-violence, for it alone can kindle a faith in the victory over evil which will enable men to obey that precept. And only such obedience is blessed with the promise that we shall be partakers of Christ’s victory as well as of his sufferings.

The passion of Christ is the victory of divine love over the powers of evil, and therefore it is the only supportable basis for Christian obedience. Once again, Jesus calls those who follow him to share his passion. How can we convince the world by our preaching of the passion when we shrink from that passion in our own lives? On the cross Jesus fulfilled the law he himself established and thus graciously keeps his disciples in the fellowship of his suffering. The cross is the only power in the world which proves that suffering love can avenge and vanquish evil. But it was just this participation in the cross which the disciples were granted when Jesus called them to him. They are called blessed because of their visible participation in his cross.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (SCM Press: London, 2001), p. 93-94, (originally published in 1937 by Chr. Kaiser Verlag of Munich).



  1. The immense love that Jesus has for us can indeed avenge and vanquish all evil, in fact He already has victory over all evil and will one day banish it forever. In the mean time we can also fight against evil by sending love into the broken world and helping where we can. We need to be Jesus’ hands and feet.

  2. right, I think the point is the cross happened in the real world thus love is actually able to defeat evil. even so, this is not the norm in Satan’s world, but we are called to reflect a certain future, a certain beauty, that only makes sense in light of the second coming of Jesus to transform this tired old world into something that runs on love and justice

  3. If pacifism is not possible, then it is not possible for humanity to survive. After 6000 years of war, with no end in sight, what will the next thousand years of war bring?

    I wonder if that was the distant vision of Jesus on his way to Jerualem after the palm parade.

    There might not be a more urgent appeal to the people of the earth than to become pacifists.

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