In January I joined up with a fellow blogger who was hosting a read-along of Bonhoeffer’s biography by Eric Metaxas with the understanding that we would post our thoughts on the first half of this book today and then do the same for the second half of the book on March 15.
I’m so grateful that this event served as the impetus for my introduction to such a man. I knew of Bonhoeffer before, knew that he was martyred for resisting Hitler, and had even attempted reading his acclaimed work, Life Together, once or twice, but now…
Friends, I have experienced his story in a way that affects my own.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
When one reads or hears about all the atrocities perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and his army of Germans during the thirties and forties, one always wonders, Where were the Christians? Where were the people who loved Jesus? Where were the merciful? Where were the gracious?
One of the benefits of reading this story that begins in 1896 (10 years before Bonhoeffer’s birth) is that it helped me to understand the landscape in Germany that made Hitler’s seemingly unfathomable rise to power possible. One begins to understand and even shudder at the thought that had you been a German in 1930, you would probably have been seduced.
Included in the book (p.193) are these familiar words written by Martin Niemoller, who initially supported Hitler, but was later imprisoned for opposing the nazification of German Protestant churches.
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.
When Dietrich Bonhoeffer chose as a young man to pursue a career path as a theologian, he unknowingly was entering a war zone, for before he even finished all of his schooling, Hitler and his entourage would wage almost their very first battle in Germany with the German church. By taking over the German church and making it loyal to himself and his ideologies, Hitler eliminated the institution as an enemy of his regime before he revealed himself as the madman he truly was.
However, Bonhoeffer, from his place of privilege in Berlin, recognized immediately that there would be no way to cooperate with the new regime and he worked from the very first days of Hitler’s election to office to preserve a church in Germany that would remain true to the Bible and to the commands of Jesus. Author Eric Metaxas tells the journey of this fight against the state takeover of the German Protestant church in a narrative so gripping I would fight to stay awake late at night to keep reading it.
Also, in reading, I was amazed to see how the threads of early events in his life were God’s preparing Bonhoeffer for what would come. Bringing out these details is, of course, also the brilliant work of the author. Metaxas is leading his reader in an understanding of how Bonhoeffer’s personal life and upbringing impacted his decisions later on.
While reading, I felt myself awaken as Bonhoeffer did, to the reality of the world around him and to the clarity of God’s call on his life. He was a prophet from the beginning, seeing what others failed to see. In the midst of so much turmoil and a world growing daily fuller of lies, he held fast to truth that sustained him.
I have loved all the Bonhoeffer quotes in the book, but this letter he wrote to his brother-in-law Rudiger Schleicher in 1936 was particularly precious to me. (pp. 136-7) He begins to be in awe of discovering God through the Bible.
First of all I will confess quite simply – I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive this answer. One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the Bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of Him. Only if we seek Him, will He answer us.
Of course it is also possible to read the Bible like any other book, that is to say from the point of view of textual criticism, etc.; there is nothing to be said against that. Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface, just as we do not grasp the words of someone we love by taking them to bits, but by simply receiving them, so that for days they go on lingering in our minds, simply because they are the words of a person we love; and just as these words reveal more and more of the person who said them as we go on, like Mary, “pondering them in our heart,” so it will be with the words of the Bible. Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not leave us alone with our questions, only so shall we learn to rejoice in the Bible…..
If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever would find him must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount commands. This is not according to our nature at all; it is entirely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only in the New but also in the Old Testament.
And I would like to tell you now quite personally: since I have learnt to read the Bible in this way – and this has not been for so very long – it becomes every day more wonderful to me. I read it in the morning and the evening, often during the day as well, and every day I consider a text, which I have chosen for the whole week, and try to sink deeply into it, so as really to hear what it is saying. I know that without this I could not live properly any longer.
Dear reader, can you remember a time when you first read some piece of Scripture and felt that God was speaking straight to you? I love how Bonhoeffer rejoices that God loves us and does not leave us alone with our questions.
Bonhoeffer could never have imagined all that he would face in the years following the writing of this letter, but I believe the keys to how he continued on are all within the words he wrote here.
Those years make up the second half of the book, which I will return to on March 15.
There’s still time to join Arti and other bloggers in reading this incredible book.