The Lonely Resister: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Protestant Martyr

A Lutheran pastor and pacifist, Bonhoeffer joined an ill-fated plot to assassinate Hitler. He was later killed in Nazi camp.

BY: Michael F. Moeller

 

Excerpted from a keynote address entitled "Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Reflection On His Life and Ministry."



Christmas, 1942. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes a long essay addressed to Hans von Dohnanyi, Hans Oster, and Eberhard Bethge entitled "After Ten Years--Report at the Beginning of the Year 1943."

A copy of this document was hidden under the shingles of the roof of the house of his parents. In this moving retrospect, Bonhoeffer reflects on what it means to have lived in Nazi Germany in the decade just ended. He speaks at one point of suffering:

"It is endlessly easier to suffer in obedience to a human order than in the freedom of one's own responsible action. It is endlessly easier to suffer publicly in honor than hidden and in disguise. It is endlessly easier to suffer with the body than with the spirit. Christ suffered in freedom, solitude, hidden, and in disguise, with body and spirit and since then, many Christians with him."

The travail of the lonely resister is present in this text. Having to decide against his own people, against his own church, against commonly held beliefs, leads Bonhoeffer to...an intense inward struggle. The decision did not emerge from a triumphalist motive, as if he knew better than everyone else. It was the realization that the truth requires suffering that made Bonhoeffer ready to take the fateful step, although inside Germany after the war political resistance during the Nazi period was often viewed as nothing short of betrayal.

For Bonhoeffer to join the resistance was not only a political but also a theological decision.

"I believe that God can and wants to create good out of everything, even evil. For that he needs people who use everything for the best. I believe that God provides us with as much strength to resist in every calamity as we need. But he does not give it in advance, so that we trust him alone. In such a trust all anxiety about the future must be overcome."

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