Written By: Albert Schweitzer Translated By: Reginald H. Fuller Edited By: Ulrich Neuenschwander Original English Edition: Harper & Row, 1969 Hardcover, 153 Pages No ISBN Shown Quotes Table of Contents
This small book is a collection of Dr. Schweitzer's sermons. They were all preached during the period 1900 through 1919, at the Church of St. Nicolai in Strasbourg. Each sermon is short, occupying from 4 to 10 pages of text. As is always the case when Schweitzer is presenting his ideas to a general audience, each sermon avoids dense theological technique and terminology. Nevertheless, they cover spiritual and ethical concerns that challenge and stimulate the reader.
Schweitzer's Christianity explicitly permeates Reverence For Life. Rather than forming an implicit background for his theological and ethical positions, Christianity is the foundation and assumption for these sermons. Each sermon begins with a short scripture taken from the New Testament, and each addresses ethical questions raised by the scripture as applicable to his life and the lives of his parishioners. Topics include the call to missionary work, the kingdom of God, reverence for life, and many others. Some of the most powerful sermons discuss how his parishioners should react ethically and morally to the suffering they endured (and inflicted) during World War I.
"Those who thank God much are the truly wealthy. So our inner happiness depends not on what we experience but on the degree of our gratitude to God, whatever the experience. Your life is something opaque, not transparent, as long as you look at it in an ordinary human way. But if you hold it up against the light of God's goodness, it shines and turns transparent, radiant and bright. And then you ask yourself in amazement: Is this really my own life I see before me?"
"This faithfulness toward Jesus is not a sort of complicated, mystical notion that sounds quite impressive in sermons but has no meaning in practical life. Far from it. Whoever has looked into the eyes of Jesus as he appears to us in his words knows that true happiness consists of service to this great One and his Spirit--and a life offered to his work. Those who accept this mode of life, who know how to live it, become brothers and sisters."
"To hope, to keep silent, and to work alone--that is what we must learn to do if we really want to labor in the true spirit. But what exactly does it involve, this plowing? The plowman does not pull the plow. He does not push it. He only directs it. That is just how events move in our lives. We can do nothing but guide them straight is the direction which leads to our Lord Jesus Christ, striving toward him in all we do and experience. Strive toward him, and the furrow will plow itself."
"But the man who dares to live his life with death before his eyes, the man who receives life back bit by bit and lives as though it did not belong to him by right but has been bestowed on him as a gift, the man who has such freedom and peace of mind that he has overcome death in his thoughts--such a man believes in eternal life because it is already his, it is a present experience, and he already benefits from its peace and joy. He cannot describe this experience in words. He may not be able to conform his view with the traditional picture of it. But one thing he knows for certain: Something within us does not pass away, something goes on living and working wherever the kingdom of the spirit is present. It is already working and living within us, because in our hearts we have been able to reach life by overcoming death."
"I do not want to frighten you by telling you about the temptations life will bring. Anyone who is healthy in spirit will overcome them. But there is something I want you to realize. It does not matter so much what you do. What matters is whether your soul is harmed by what you do. If your soul is harmed, something irreparable happens, the extent of which you won't realize until it will be too late."
"These three great temptations unobtrusively wreck the presupposition of all goodness. Guard against them. Counter the first temptation [indifference, followed by uselessness] by saying that for you to share experience and to lend a helping hand is an absolute inward necessity. Your utmost attempts will be but a drop in the ocean compared with what needs to be done, but only this attitude will give meaning and value to your life. Wherever you are, as far as you can, you should bring redemption, redemption from the misery brought into the world by self-contradictory will of life, redemption that only he who has this knowledge can bring. The small amount you are able to do is actually much is it only relieves pain, suffering, and fear from any living being, be it human or any other creature. The preservation of life is the true joy.
As for the other temptation, the fear that compassion will involve you in suffering, counter it with the realization that the sharing of sorrow expands your capacity to share joy as well. When you callously ignore the suffering of others, you lose the capacity to share their happiness, too. And however little joy we may see in this world, the sharing of it, together with the good we ourselves create, produces the only happiness which makes life tolerable. And finally, you have no right to say: I will be this, or I will be that, because I think one way will make me happier than another. No, you must be what you ought to be, a true, knowing man, a man who identifies himself with the world, a man who experiences the world within himself. Whether you are happier by the ordinary standards of happiness or not doesn't matter. The secret hour does not requires of us that we should be happy--to obey the call is the only thing that satisfies deeply.
So I tell you, don't let your hearts grow numb. Stay alert. It is your soul which matters.
Foreword by D. Elton Trueblood
Editor's Postscript by Ulrich Neuenschwander
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