One powerful element of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Nachfolge (“Discipleship”) is his understanding of necessity of suffering (chapter 4 “Discipleship and the Cross”). True believers must participate in the suffering of Christ. This call to self-denial and suffering is the “hard word of grace” (86).
Just as Christ is only Christ as one who suffers and is rejected, so a disciple is a disciple only in suffering and being rejected, thereby participating in crucifixion (85).
Suffering becomes the identifying mark of a follower of Christ (89).
This call is both individual (because “Everyone enters discipleship alone . . .”), but also corporate (because “. . . but no one remains alone in discipleship”).
For Bonhoeffer, the church, the “community of Jesus Christ”, is the “community of the cross” and the “community of forgiveness of sins” for the world. As Luther wrote, “the community of those ‘who are persecuted and martyred on account of the gospel’” (89).
What does he mean by suffering? Here Bonhoeffer is poignant. Discipleship’s suffering must be distinguished from a “natural suffering” that all humanity experiences. The suffering Bonhoeffer believes Christ calls us to is not “one’s daily misfortune” or “the predicament and anxiety of our natural life” (87). Rather the suffering that comes from a cruciform life is a suffering of rejection and shame.
What true discipleship requires is the willingness to suffer rejection because of an allegiance to a suffering and rejected Christ. Bonhoeffer reminds us that we serve Jesus who is the victorious and vindicated and reigning, crucified Messiah. We don’t have the former without the latter.