Monday, October 17, 2011

Bonhoeffer: The man who stood up to Hitler.

Maybe somewhere along the way, you've heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He gave us several great books including "The Cost of Discipleship." It's ironic that I should read a book about Bonhoeffer after reading David Platt's Radical, because Bonhoeffer was a radical in the truest sense of the word.

As I read Eric Metaxas new biography: "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" I became acquanted with a complex Christian who was an academic, teacher, son, brother, friend, pastor and a man who lived his faith. Throughout the book Metaxas shows how Bonhoeffer's decisions were guided by his faith. Bonhoeffer lived out his faith in his daily life. 

Here in the 21st century, we live as Christians in America without much opposition. We are not forced to make hard choices or life and death decisions. We are not really persecuted, really and truly, we aren't. 

How would you or I handle some of the decisions that confronted Bonhoeffer on a daily basis? Do we lie to the Nazis, or do we give them information that leads to the deaths of innocents? Do we obey our nation's laws, or do we defy them by leading Jews into safety? Do we fight in Hitler's army, or do we refuse, knowing that we will be beheaded and leave our family destitute? These are some of the questions that Bonhoeffer and other believers in Nazi Germany had to answer, and their response doesn't fit our nice little Christian stereotype. The Christianity depicted in this book is hard-core, rubber meets the road kind of faith and trust in Almighty God.

Metaxas has clearly done his homework and given us as much information about Bonhoeffer as is possible through personal letters, essays and the recollections of others.

Bonhoeffer was raised in an affluent family of German intellectuals where success was assumed. He was afforded the opportunity to travel and advance his education. Dietrich chose the nonintellectual pursuit of theological study. Bonhoeffer became one of the leading voices of the German Confessing Church in the 1930s challenging the state authorized and often anti-God church of the Third Reich. 

Bonhoeffer refused to accept the German position regarding the Jews which would eventually lead to the extermination of over six million Jews by Hitler's Third Reich. He took a stand early on when many Germany's were acquiescing to Hitler and even turning their backs and a deaf ear to the cries of their Jewish neighbors. Bonhoeffer took no thought for his own well-being. In fact, on four different occasions, Dietrich could have escaped from Germany and settled in the U.S. or England as an esteemed professor-theologian. But, as Bonhoeffer felt that he had a destiny and even if it ended in his premature death, he could not shrink or run from it. 

Bonhoeffer's resistance eventually led to his participation in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler leading to the failed Stauffenberg plot of July 1944. In the aftermath of this attempt of the Fuhrer's life, Bonhoeffer and other conspirators were arrested with Bonhoeffer. He was executed by Hitler during the last days of the war in April 1945.

Let me close by saying that I am attracted to these kinds of books because they hold up a mirror to my own life and I am forced to ask myself, "What would I have done?" "Would I have stood up for my Jewish neighbors, at the risk of my own life?"  I am afraid that at times, I think I may not have behaved as nobly as Bonhoeffer. For that, I ask God's forgiveness and seek to be strengthened in my faith so as not to love my life and to be willing to stand for righteousness regardless of the cost. 

I believe in my lifetime that we as believers may be forced to take a stand against evil that could cost us our lives. 

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy introduced me to Bonhoeffer whom I grew to know as well as any friend of mine. He is my brother in the faith and I am thankful for his courage, conviction and faithfulness. His legacy is one that will inspire and challenge me in the days to come. I look forward to embracing Bonhoeffer in heaven.

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