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'Es bringt aber nichts!'

by Anna Madsen

"Es bringt aber nichts!"

It's a terrific German saying. Literally, it means, "It brings nothing!" That just sounds funny to English-speaking ears, of course, even when not spoken in German. But what it actually means is "Nothing good comes of that!" or "It's not worth it!" or "It's of no use!" You hear people say the phrase when someone is weighing a choice or might be on the cusp of making a decision that isn't, perhaps, such a great one.

I think what captures my imagination about "Es bringt aber nichts!" is that word "bring." It is such a strong word. One brings something when they are intentionally transporting something of importance, as in bringing good news or bringing a message or bringing a cake to the party!

I know that the phrase says, "It brings nothing," but of course the maxim means that it (your decision, your action, your stance) does bring something, actually: it brings something that you don't want, that isn't helpful, that is destructive to the goal, the hoped-for solution, the best possible outcome.

When we have been harmed, it is natural, it is easy, it is, given the offense, even understandable to want to take out our anger upon the wrongdoer, to hold on to our hurt, to carry our fury with us to the grave.

Frankly, I get it. It doesn't matter that I'm a Christian or Lutheran pastor or theologian. I completely get the pull—sometimes the unconscious, even visceral pull—to stay ticked; to snarl at the oppressor; to wish, and even create, ill for the perpetrator; to hope for painful judgment; to desire and seek retribution against the one who hurt those with whom I have an allegiance or affiliation or love, or those who hurt me. Those pains and griefs and unfair losses are real, and somebody should feel it as badly as I do. I get it. But then, well, Easter messes me up.

Here's the thing: holding on to anger and resentment and hate, es bringt aber nichts. Or, rather, it does bring something: more anger and resentment and hate. Forgiveness, you see, is really the faith fusion of Good Friday and Easter. It's the acknowledgment that a death has occurred—one that shouldn't have. It's the naming of a loss that caused suffering. That's the Good Friday part of it. But it is also the acknowledgment that death, that loss, that suffering isn't more powerful than the announcement that resurrection defines us more than the tomb does. That's the Easter part of it.

Anna Madsen is a freelance theologian and proud momma to Else and Karl. She and her children are soon moving to northeast Minnesota to steward her work there with OMG: Center for Theological Conversation (omgcenter.com) and to enjoy seeing the occasional moose and bear in the woods.

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