To a Prisoner in Germany

Basel, 20 December 1961

Dear N. N.,

Your letter of the thirteenth reached me yesterday and moved me greatly. Partly because you refer to my good friend Gertrud Staewen but above all because Christmas is upon us, I hasten to make at least a short reply.

Since you obviously want something from me, you cannot be serious in expecting me to judge you harshly. But can I give you any supporting counsel?

You say you plunge deeply into the Bible in vain. You say you also pray in vain. You are clearly thinking of a “final step” but you shrink back from it. Have I understood you correctly?

First regarding your prayers. How do you know they are in vain? God has His own time and He may well know the right moment to lift the double shadow that now lies over your life. Therefore, do not stop praying.

It could also be that He will answer you in a very different way from what you have in mind in your prayers. Hold unshakably fast to one thing. He loves you even now as the one you now are. …And listen closely: it might well be that He will not lift this shadow from you, possibly will never do so your whole life, just because from all eternity He has appointed you to be His friend as He is yours, just because He wants you as the man whose only option it is to love Him in return and give Him alone the glory there in the depths from which He will not raise you.

Get me right: I am not saying that this has to be so, that the shadows cannot disperse. But I see and know that there are shadows in the lives of all of us, not the same as those under which you sigh, but in their way oppressive ones too, which will not disperse, and which perhaps in God’s will must not disperse, so that we may be held in the place where, as those who are loved by God, we can only love Him back and praise Him.

Thus, even if this is His mind and will for you, in no case must you think of that final step. May your hope not be a tiny flame but a big and strong one, even then, I say, and perhaps precisely then; no, not perhaps but certainly, for what God chooses for us children of men is always the best.

Can you follow me? Perhaps you can if you read the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel, not deeply but very simply, with the thought that every word there, and every word in the Twenty-Third Psalm too, is meant for you too, and especially for you.

With friendly greetings and all good wishes,

Yours,
Karl Barth

Karl Barth, Letters: 1961–1968, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 27–8.

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