I came into the world in Germany in 1906. My father was a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Berlin. I studied hard and also joined the same university, this time teaching theology. A couple of years later, Hitler came to power. It was a difficult time for Christians but I was determined to do something to show that I stood against Hitler. As a Lutheran pastor I became a spokesman for the Confessing Church, a form of Protestant resistance against Nazism. I wrote two books which are now very well known: Life Together talks about the life of the Christian community in the seminary of the Confessing Church, which was an underground movement. My book The Cost of Discipleship is famous for talking about 'cheap grace' meaning the way Christians can use 'grace' to get away from the personal cost of doing the right thing. Discipleship comes with a cost, with pain, even to the extent of losing your life. Sometimes you do have to stand up to your leaders if you know they are doing wrong.
This conviction meant that when my brother-in-law introduced me to people who were planning to overthrow Hitler I said I would help. I helped them as much as I could but eventually was arrested and sent to prison. After Hitler escaped an attempt on his life I was sent to Buchenwald and then another prison. In 1945 after I had finished leading worship, soldiers came for me. I told another prisoner that although this was the end, it was the beginning of life for me. I spent my last moments in prayer when I was hanged the following day alongside some others. A few days later the Allies freed the other prisoners.
"Who Stands Fast? The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts. For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical necessity, or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on our traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who bases his life on the Bible, it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil.... Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God - the responsible man, who tries to make his whole like an answer to the question and call of God. Where are these responsible people?"
Extract from Letters and Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (SCM Classics).
Used with permission.
"The right way to requite evil, according to Jesus, is not to resist it...At this point it becomes evident that when a Christian meets with injustice, he no longer clings to his rights and defends them at all costs. He is absolutely free from possessions and bound to Christ alone. Again, his witness to this exclusive adherence to Jesus creates the only workable basis for fellowship, and leaves the aggressor for him to deal with. The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a stand-still because it does not find the resistance it is looking for. Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames."
Extract from The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (SCM Classics).
Used with permission.
Some Questions to think about:
- How do you react to Bonhoeffer's words?
- How might you answer his question 'Where are these responsible people?'
- If you could, would you release Bonhoeffer from his prison cell?
- Write down in your journal or blog any thoughts and impressions that these words create for you.
- What might you have in your rucksack that you could offer to sustain Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his cell?
- What might Dietrich Bonhoeffer offer you to take away with you?