God, You Know Me I Am Yours

Article excerpt

`Who am I?'

A great teacher of the history of religion once identified the question "Who I?" as the first and most fundamental religious question.

It sums up a host of other smaller questions, "Where did I come from?" "Where am I going?" What am I here for?" into a question which, although it may sound at first rather egotistical, leads inevitably to relationships with others, and for most people in history leads to God and eternal purposes.

But the question is also the title of a poem by one of the least egotistical heroes of the twentieth century, the German theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The poem was given to me some years ago, and I carry it with me in my diary.

In the poem, written while he was in a Nazi prison, Bonhoeffer sets out two pictures of himself. First, he describes how others speak admiringly of him -- confident, strong, free, clear -- and how they envisage him facing his inevitable death -- calm, smiling, proud.

Then follows his description of the inner realities as he feels them -- devoid of call, thirsting for human companionship, trembling with rage about trifling injuries, weary of thinking and empty of prayer.

He then asks, "Which am I? Am I one person today and tomorrow the other? Both at the same time? A hypocrite to the world and a weakling to myself?"

All those questions he leaves unanswered. He makes only this affirmation, "Whoever I am, O God, you know me, I am yours."

Though I could never imagine myself in circumstances as dreadful as those of Bonhoeffer, I still identify with the problem of communicating public self-confidence and coping with raging inner serf-doubt. …