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D. Bonheoffer, (As Read In Memoirs) in "The Cost of Discipleship"

>> 9.01.2011

“Dietrich Bonheoffer was born in Breslau on February 4th, 1906, the son of a university professor and leading authority on psychiatry and neurology.  His more remote ancestors were theologians, professors, lawyers, artists.” (p. 9)  He had three brothers and four sisters, one of which was his twin.  His parents raised him in an atmosphere of sober-mindedness and are described by G. Liebholz, author of the memoir included in The Cost of Discipleship, as “cultured people and uncompromising in all things which matter in life…From his father…[he] inherited goodness, fairness, self-control and ability; from his mother, his great human understanding and sympathy, his devotion to the cause of the oppressed, and his unshakable steadfastness…Whenever others hesitated to undertake a task that required special courage, Bonheoffer was ready to take the risk.” (p. 9)

Bonheoffer entered the university at age 17 and by the age of 24 he became a lecturer in Systematic Theology in Berlin University.  Nachfolge (the Cost of Discipleship), one of several books written by him, was published when he was 31 in 1934.  Liebholz says, “Bonheoffer was a great realist.  He was one of the few who quickly understood, even before Hitler came to power that National Socialism was a brutal attempt to make history without God…Therefore, in 1933, when Hitler came to power, he abandoned his academic career” and then moved to London where we pastored two congregations. While there, he tried to warn people what the “true character of the German Church struggle” was really like. (p. 11)

Bonheoffer was completely opposed to fighting in the war and so it seemed inevitable that when the time came for war he refused to fight.  He had moved back to Germany by this time and American friends got him out of the country in June of 1939 but he did not feel right about leaving his fellow country-men.  He felt he had no right “to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”  With that, Bonheoffer chose to return to his country and face what may come with a courage that not many of us could even pretend to have today.

On April 5, 1943 Bonheoffer was arrested by the Gestapo along with his sister and her husband.  There are many recorded accounts of the character Bonheoffer continued to exhibit in the face of terrible brutal treatment in the concentration camps.  He wrote many poems and papers while in prison which were then smuggled out by guards of whom he had won their respect.  One such set of words we have recorded from him say, “I am sure of God’s hand and guidance…you must never doubt that I am thankful and glad to go the way which I am being led.  My past life is abundantly full of God’s mercy, and, above all sin, stands the forgiving love of the Crucified.” (p.13)

You must read this book! to find out just how much great, Godly character was contained in one man.  There is no way I could begin to adequately express the absolute love he had for Christ to literally go to his death on behalf of his Lord and master.  Shortly before his death, almost 2 years to the day after being first arrested and imprisoned, Bonheoffer penned these words,

“Come now, solemnest feast on the road to eternal freedom,

Death, and destroy those fetters that bow, those walls that imprison

this our transient life, these souls that linger in darkness,

so that al last we see what is here withheld from our vision.

Love did we seek you, freedom, in discipline, action and suffering.

Now that we die, in the face of God himself we behold you.”

On April 9th, 1945 just a few days before his concentration camp was liberated by the Allies, Bonheoffer was executed by special order.  Liebholz says of him, “from his faith the breadth of vision came which enabled him to separate the gold in life from the dross and to differentiate what was and what was not essential in the life of man.” (p. 17) 

Oh, Lord, that I may seek You so much, so often, in every minute, that You would clearly show me the dross—of which I know I so oft’ settle into all too comfortably and willingly-- and show me Your BEST, Your “essential,” separating it from the “good enough,” “good,” or even “better.”


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