“What are we waiting for? The time is late.”
~ DIETRICH BONHOEFFER
I hesitantly decided to read Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy when it became free to BookSneeze bloggers.
Its length scared me:
610 pages from the Foreward to Reading Group Guide.
But it was worth every page, even though I wasn’t prepared for how profoundly those pages would weigh on my heart.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German by physical blood and a brother by Christ’s blood, is one of my 20th century heroes of the Christian faith. I’ve read his The Cost of Discipleship years back, but this book showed a fuller look at the man down deep.
He lived a life of prayer and active discipleship, constantly striving to keep Jesus at the center.
He saw the destructive nature of Nazism early on. He sought to strengthen the church so she could stand against it. He traveled abroad to solicit support from those outside Germany to help those within Germany who were trying to bring down Hitler. He joined the Abwehr (the Germany Military Intelligence Office) to better position himself to assist in assassination attempts against Hitler, a cause he wrestled with but finally made peace with.
Thankfully, he was a man of many letters and sermons and writings. The book is full of his own words to others.
In a letter dated April 7, 1934, to Henry Louis Henriod, the Swiss theologian who headed the ecumenical World Alliance, Bonhoeffer wrote,
I would very much have liked to discuss the situation with you again, since the slowness of ecumenical procedure is beginning to look to me like irresponsibility. A decision must be made at some point, and it’s no good waiting indefinitely for a sign from heaven that will solve the difficulty without further trouble. Even the ecumenical movement has to make up its mind and is therefore subject to error, like everything human.
But to procrastinate and prevaricate simply because you’re afraid of erring, when others—I mean our brethren in Germany—must make infinitely more difficult decisions every day, seems to me almost to run counter to love. To delay or fail to make decisions may be more sinful than to make wrong decisions out of faith and love… [I]n this particular case it really is now or never. “Too late” means “never.”
…We must shake off our fear of this world—the cause of Christ is at stake, and are we to be found sleeping?
…Christ is looking down at us and asking whether there is anyone left who confesses faith in him.
This eventually led to his arrest in Germany and his hanging from the gallows in April 1945, just three weeks prior to the Nazis' surrender.
So while I initially feared the length of the book (I committed to reading 10 pages a day), I could have read more.
Author Eric Metaxas writes beautifully and intelligently. While I did have to look up a few words along the way (always a good thing), Metaxas’ sentences flow effortlessly.
The main message was always clear, despite occasional difficulties for me in following German names.
There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security.
To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hands of the Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes.
Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.
~ “Peace Speech” at the Conference at Fano, 1934, age 28
Interestingly, at the same time I was reading Bonhoeffer, I was also reading Unbroken, another World War 2 book, but this one about an American soldier in Japanese prison camps. [Read it, too!]
In both books, I was amazed by two extremes in two separate countries: of human cruelty to other humans, and of unbreakable spirits (and often unbreakable bodies) opposite that cruelty. [Disclaimer: I paid the price with bad dreams. Jeff said I hit him once in the middle of the night with my pillow; I have no recollection at all.]