Thursday, November 3, 2016

Reinhold Niebuhr, Author of the “Serenity Prayer”

Did you know that this coming year is the 125th anniversary of the birth of one of the finest theologians America has produced?  To be specific, I am speaking of Reinhold Niebuhr, whose dates are 1892-1971.  

Reinhold Niebuhr is perhaps best remembered in the world at large for one specific prayer that he authored.  Many people know his prayer, even if they do not know that someone actually wrote it and that the someone was Dr. Niebuhr.  His prayer has come to be known as the “Serenity Prayer”.  In its original form, it goes like this:

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

What a gift!  This prayer has whispered its quiet strength to those in need.  This prayer has given encouragement to those who face challenges.  This prayer has given countless persons the ability to continue although circumstances are still difficult and disappointing.  This prayer has found its way in to wallets and pocketbooks and on to refrigerator magnets—wherever we need a small but powerful dose of responsible Christian living.  If good old “Dr. N.” had written nothing else—that one prayer would have been more than enough to secure his fame.  His witness to us in those few lines would be reason enough to revere his witness as a Christian.  But, he did so much more. 

Reinhold Niebuhr was born in Wright City, Missouri, on June 21, 1892, the son of Gustav and Lydia Niebuhr. Gustav was an immigrant from Germany and became a ordained minister of the German Evangelical Synod after graduating from Eden Seminary at St. Louis. His mother was a daughter of German Evangelical Synod missionary, Edward Hosto.  Gustav and Lydia had four children, Hulda, Walter, Reinhold, and Helmut Richard (Hulda and H. Richard are also famous in theological circles). His works include, Moral Man and Immoral Society. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1932; An Interpretation of Christian Ethics. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935; The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defense. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944.

One other quotation from Dr. Niebuhr might peak your interest and spark your further reading of his works.  It speaks to our age every bit as clearly as when he wrote these words two generations ago…

"The tendency to claim God as an ally
for our partisan values and ends is ...
the source of all religious fanaticism."

Today, when you read about the excesses that are caused by forms of religious fanaticism, you might want to remember these other words of Dr. Niebuhr’s.  And as a corrective to them, you might wish to pray his Serenity Prayer. 

With grace and peace,

John A. Dalles, Pastor

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