Things to Read in Prison

While Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in prison, hoping to be released but-as it turned out-waiting to die, he kept himself busy by reading and writing.  One of the books that captured his attention was The Worldview of Physics by Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker.

Bonhoeffer was arrested in April of 1943, initially on relatively minor charges after helping a Jewish family escape to Switzerland.  The Nazis did not yet suspect him of involvement in a plot against Hitler, and he hoped to be cleared of the lesser charges.  After a year, by May of 1944, he must have seen it becoming less likely that he would be released, but still he maintained hope.

Bonhoeffer continued reading and writing as a way of occupying the time-but also for a more serious purpose.  He was planning to participate in rebuilding Germany and Europe after the war. He was thinking about serious issues affecting the church and the world.

While reading Weiszäcker he expressed the view that we can no longer think of God as the answer to the gaps in our understanding and abilities.

We should seek God in the middle of our lives and activity, not out on the boundaries.

We should see God in our success, health, and strength, not only in our weakness, sin, and failure.

Weiszäcker himself was an interesting figure. He was a brilliant young scientist, working alongside of Heisenberg, Bohr and others on nuclear research during the war.  He later claimed that they had deliberately avoided developing the bomb, though that has been disputed.  Nevertheless, after the war he did devote himself to banning nuclear weapons.

Weiszäcker was a committed Christian who taught philosophy in German universities for a second career after teaching physics.  I wonder if he read Bonhoeffer after the war, and if the influence was mutual.  Carl Weiszäcker lived to be 94.  He died just last year, in April of 2007.

(More here, here, here, or here.)