“O happiness beloved, and pain beloved in heaviness, you went from me.
What shall I call you? Anguish, life, blessedness, part of myself, my heart – the past?
The door was slammed;
I hear your steps depart and slowly die away.
What now remains for me – torment, delight, desire?
This only do I know: that with you, all has gone.
But do you feel how I now grasp at you
And so clutch hold of you
That it must hurt you?...

…I stretch my hands out,
And I pray -
And a new thing now I hear:
‘The past will come to you once more,
And be your life’s enduring part,
Through thanks and repentance.’
Feel in the past God’s forgiveness and goodness,
Pray Him to keep you today and tomorrow.”

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Past,” Letters and Papers From Prison)


One dark night not a century ago, a man named Dietrich sat in a prison cell, aching for a past that had offered hope and beauty but had eventually led him to a slammed door and a lonely room. He wondered and wrestled until God showed up and offered his past back to him – not as a present reality but as a comforting companion – through thanks and repentance.

Thanks in remembering connects us to God’s goodness.

Repentance in remembering connects us to God’s forgiveness.

So… for every son of Abraham who has left his homeland to find himself a stranger and a foreigner, for every daughter of Israel who has escaped slavery to find the desert vast, for each one whose calling has led to obstacles, whose hope for the future has led to a grave, whose hardest goodbye has been to the person who used to look back from the mirror…

May we, like Dietrich, wonder and wrestle until the God whose goodness and forgiveness marked our past gives us assurance of His keeping today and tomorrow.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany during World War II. He recognized evil quickly, spoke against wickedness boldly, and acted on his convictions courageously – qualities that led to over a year of imprisonment and eventual execution.


A History of Grace is a brand new Key Life series that pairs selections from classic theological works with insightful commentary from your favorite Key Life writers.

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