If you don’t know about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, then you don’t know about one of the most courageous theologians of the 20th century.
Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Germany in 1906. The son of a psychiatrist and a teacher, Bonhoeffer was the sixth of eight children in his family. He became an ordained minister in 1931 at the age of 25 and would devote his life to serving Christ until his execution in 1945.
You may be asking yourself, “Why does the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer matter?” The answer is simple: Bonhoeffer had amazing courage and conviction in the face of intense hatred and persecution. As Christians, we need to have that same courage and conviction.
Recently I’ve been reading Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship. Before the book itself begins, my copy has a memoir written by Gerhard Leibholz, a constitutional lawyer and contemporary of Bonhoeffer’s. Leibholz notes that Bonhoeffer was faced with an incredible choice: leave Nazi Germany, or stay and face almost certain death. Bonhoeffer chose the latter, and wrote a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr explaining his decision:
“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… Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose; but I cannot make this choice in security.”
Because of his work with the Confessional Church under Hitler’s regime, Bonhoeffer, along with his sister Christel and her husband, were arrested by the Gestapo in April of 1943. Two years later, he was executed at the concentration camp at Flossenburg by order of Heinrich Himmler, just a few days before the camp was liberated by the allies.
Bonhoeffer had the opportunity to take the easy road. He could have fled to the safety of the United States or elsewhere and avoided his death. Instead, he boldly followed Christ and became a martyr.
Today in America we are blessed with liberties and freedoms that give us the right to worship the risen Christ. For a sizable portion of his life, Bonhoeffer did not have those freedoms, and yet he still made a greater impact than many of us have today with our freedoms and luxuries.
In our complacency we have taken for granted those freedoms. Oftentimes we don’t even realize that we can make an impact, whether it’s through electing courageous and Christlike politicians, sharing the gospel with others or any of the hundreds of ways we can make an impact on our world today.
Most of my life I haven’t had the courage to stand up for what I believe in. I would sit by and hold my tongue in order to be friends with everyone and try not to offend anyone who didn’t share my beliefs. Not anymore. I now realize that God has put me, and you, in a place where real change can occur. All it requires is faith, courage, and God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer died for his faith. Now, I’m ready to live and die for mine.