Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What About Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

Jack urged me to seek out more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I spent a lot of the weekend doing just that.  I was intrigued by several things about him.  One, of course, was his self sacrifice. He had several opportunities to save himself. For a period of time during the Nazi rule, he lived in New York...and could have stayed, but he chose to return to his own country.  During his imprisonment, arrangements were made for his release...but because he feared it would endanger his family and his fiancee' he let the opportunity pass.  Quite courageous. 

Bonhoeffer is often referred to as a martyr.  He did not hide himself away and was an outspoken opponent to Hitler's regime. As early as 1933 when when he was only 26 years old while delivering a national radio address, he warned that a leader who makes himself an idol is a "misleader."  Before he could go on, they pulled the plug on the broadcast...and he established himself as an opponent of the Fuhrer.  He knew that (to coin his phrase) that the church might be called upon "to fall into the spokes of the wheel" to stop Hitler's war machine.  Sadly, that was his fate. 

Yet, although he was committed to his role in carrying out the assassination of Hitler,  he was never truly at peace about it.  Prior to the political upheaval and subsequent atrocities, he was a pacifist. 

The following snippets are from an online (free) e-book called The Third Testament that I happened upon while researching all this stuff.

His own position was the classic pacifist one. As late as 1934, at the Fanö ecumenical conference, he delivered a powerful address in the course of which he said, “Which of us can say he knows what it might  mean to the world if one nation should meet the aggressor not with weapons in hand, but defenseless, praying, and for that very reason protected by a ‘bulwark never failing’?”

And from Bishop Bell, a fellow conspirator...spoken at Bonhoeffer's memorial service

Of those solemn last talks I had with Dietrich I will say nothing further but this: deeply committed as he was to the plan for elimination, he was not altogether at ease as a Christian about such a solution. “There must be punishment by God,” he said. “We do not want to escape repentance. The elimination itself,” he urged, “must be understood as an act of repentance. Oh, we have to be punished, Christians do not wish to escape repentance or chaos, if God wills to bring it on us. We must endure this judgement as Christians.”

Yet, earlier in his life, in a conversation with his brother he said:

"There are things for which an uncompromising stand is worthwhile. And it seems to me that peace and social justice, or Christ himself, are such things" from a Testament to Freedom.

In one of his letters from prison he wrote:

May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but above all, may he lead us to himself.

His story is well is not a plot spoiler to write about the end of the story...when God did lead Bonhoeffer to himself when he was executed by hanging in a Nazi military prison.  H. Fischer- Hullstrung, the camp doctor of the Flossemburg concentration camp gave the following account of his death:

Through the half open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison grab, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God

But it wasn't just his bravery....I was also intrigued by his morphing views and incessant questions...many of which mirror my own questions about God and religion and Christ.  And pondering these questions was the gist of many of his letters from prison...which appear, at least on the surface, to indicate he lost his faith.  But that is only the surface view...for those who are only willing to take a superficial look at his writings.  Perhaps for those who have never pondered some of the difficult questions of Christianity...of faith, it could seem that he wavered in the end.  (A year in a Nazi prison could have that affect) but his death proved otherwise....

There is quite a bit of information online about Bonhoeffer!!!  I found some book length writings about Bonhoeffer at the site "Religion Online" (which is a great site with so much information in the form of original writings by recognized religious scholars and theologians, Bible studies, Counseling, Homiletics, Worship, Missions, Ethics, History and Sociology of Religion and more. One could spend a few years reading there and not run out of stuff to read!!)  There are five writings there about Bonhoeffer...two full length books.  I read some, not all, of the writings. 

I also found excerpts from his famous Letters and Papers from Prison...the first correspondence with his parents, and letters to his best friend about a "religionless" society and his state of mind after the attempt on Hitler's life had failed.

And I found a really interesting blog....the depths of which I have not explored but that is totally focused on Bonhoeffer and what we can learn from him today....very cool.

There is also a resource page from a public radio broadcast about Bonhoeffer that has some really interesting quotes and some links to some podcasts.  (which I did not listen to)

In my next post...hopefully...I will write about some of those incessant theological questions that he asked...and in the post after that I will write about what I think are the answers he found. 

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