A month ago I would not have recognized this man. It looks like just any other old family photo, probably from the 30’s. He seems to be an amiable type but nothing about his appearance would suggest his true nature. Now what if I told you he was executed in 1945 for treason and plotting to kill a political leader of the time? What if I told you he did more to save the world from oppression than any other human being of the 20th century? Interested yet? If you’re Jewish or disabled you should be, because if the Nazis had won WWII you might not be alive to read this. For the rest of us, there might not be an internet to post this blog on and that’s how much we owe to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Don’t recognize the name yet? I have to admit I was only vaguely familiar with his work and I attended a Lutheran Church for 15 years, so I really have no excuse. Next to Martin Luther, Bonhoeffer has to be the most famous Lutheran of all time and I find it really odd that I never heard him mentioned in all my time at that church. Maybe it’s because he was so uncompromising in his view of what the church should stand for and how frequently organized religion fell short. When Hitler started the Holocaust he began with 700,000 individuals who were considered too weak to waste time on. This included all ages and ethnicities. He had them euthanized so that his medical professionals could invest all of their time in the treatment of good German soldiers who would be injured in his quest to conquer the world. The Church did nothing to stop him.
From there he moved on to racial purification and that’s where Bonhoeffer took up the fight. Having seen the horrific treatment of the Jews in Germany, Bonhoeffer called on the church to stand up for those who could not speak for themselves. Unfortunately, the Lutheran pastors in Germany were paid by the government and they were reluctant to bite the hand that fed them. Hitler even had the Bible reimagined to suit his purposes and that included leaving out the Old Testament because it was too Jewish. Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of God’s Word was as strict as one can get and he spoke out against these atrocities in no uncertain terms.
After years of fighting a losing battle with the godless Nazis, Bonhoeffer became part of the network that plotted the assassination of Adolf Hitler. After three failed attempts, the conspirators were hunted down, imprisoned for more than a year and then executed just three weeks before the end of the war. At one point, Bonhoeffer survived for several months in a five by eight foot cell. He was executed by hanging on April 9, 1945. He spent his last few minutes of life thanking God for the opportunity he had been given to serve others.
I have Eric Mataxas to thank for telling Bonhoeffer’s story so vividly. His book, Bonhoeffer, (ISBN# 978-1-5955-5138-2) is a remarkable achievement in biographical storytelling. Metaxas covers all aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life and the events that moved him to martyrdom. It’s not an easy read but if you want to understand the world of today from a faithful Christian perspective, this is the book for you. Here are a few of Bonhoeffer’s most famous quotes. They need no explanation or context.
“The designation Catholic or Protestant is unimportant. The important thing is God’s word.”
“Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is; there is never loneliness.”
“If you want to find eternity, you must serve the times.”
“One can’t be a Christian and a Nationalist at the same time.”
“…here is the church, where Jew and German stand together under the Word of God, here is the proof whether a church is still the church or not.”
“He is a prisoner and he has to follow. His path is prescribed. It is the path of the man whom God will not let go, who will never be rid of God.”
“Christ is looking down at us and asking whether there is anyone left who confesses faith in him.”
“There is no way to peace along the way to safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe.”
“Battles are won not with weapons but with God.”
“Speak out for those who cannot speak. Who in the church today realizes that this is the very least that the Bible requires of us?”
“Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic… Do not defend God’s Word, but testify to it…Trust in the Word.”
“The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard.”
“Who stands fast… the responsible man who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.”
“Jesus Christ is the nonnegotiable given in the equation of human ethics.”
His last words were these,”This is the end…for me the beginning of life.”
One of Bonhoeffer’s fellow pastors, Martin Niemoller, penned the most famous words ever written about the Holocaust while he was imprisoned for eight years. Even after 70 years his words have meaning for all of us today. Let us never forget..
“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me-
and there was no one left to speak for me.” Martin Niemoller
©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.