Looking at the clear evening sky, David wondered:
Centuries later, another person asked the same question: “Who Am I?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer came of age during Hitler’s reign. Though he quickly became a world renowned theologian, he also founded a small, clandestine seminary, the purpose of which was to train pastors for post-Hitler Germany. Bonhoeffer also played a role in the failed attempt on Hitler’s life (see movie Valkyrie). As a result, he was arrested for crimes against the state. In February 1945, he was secretly moved to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Flossenbürg. He was executed there by hanging at dawn on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before soldiers from the United States 97th Infantry Divisions liberated the camp.
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!
One month before his execution Bonhoeffer wrote “Who Am I?“ In this poem he expressed bewilderment about his authentic identity. His fellow prisoners perceived him one way. “Am I then really that which other men tell of?” But inwardly, Bonhoeffer saw himself quit differently. “Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.” Amidst the tug of war of identity Bonhoeffer made this affirmation of faith: “Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!” The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 makes an identical declaration. “What is your only comfort in life and death? I … (Connection to Jesus) belong ,body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.“
So, for us, the question of identity is only answered in our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. More about that next time.