One of the “benefits” to being up till 4 in the morning for several nights this past week due to coughing spells is that I’ve been able to complete Bonhoeffer: pastor, martyr, prophet, spy by Eric Metaxas. This book is an absolutely incredible read on an absolutely incredible man of God who didn’t back down before arguably the most powerful regime the world had ever known.
Metaxas includes a very complete history of what went on before Hitler’s rise to power and how much of the church simply capitulated to the tyrannical Nazi heresy. His writing is clever, witty, and illustrative; through his writing, you are drawn into Bonhoeffer’s struggles as he tries to discern what it actually looks like to follow Christ in the Third Reich.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life is very reminiscent of an OT prophet, cut short because of what he preached and how he appied the gospel in such a seemingly hopeless time. He was executed just 2 weeks before the concentration camp was liberated which makes his story even sadder. To me, and probably to his fiancee at the time, but not necessarily to him. Here’s an excerpt from a sermon he preached while pastoring a German congregation in London, before WWII.
Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal?…. How do we know that dying is dreadful? Who knows whether in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world? Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.
I have two questions: 1) When, if ever, is it right for a private Christian to participate in the assassination of a government official? I hope never to be in that position, but it is a question.2) Are there at all similar realities to which today's church is turning a blind and complacent eye? If the church had blind spots in 1862 and 1942, are we immune to them in 2010?I don't raise these to be confrontational or to elicit an answer. These are questions that Bonhoeffer's life raises for me.
Randy,Great questions Randy. Here are some initial thoughts. Feel free to take them or leave them brother! Although Bonhoeffer worked for an arm of the gov't called the Abwehr, so he was already a gov't official. 1.) In times of war, there does seem to be different ethics, like when Rahab lies and is considered righteous or when Eglon is deceitfully murdered and God's cool with it. Bonhoeffer graciously understood there were several different options for the German Christian to take. Some of his confirmands served in battle, some joined the resistance, and of course conscientious objectors were hung.He at least realized that different Christ-centered consciences would lead to different conclusions. And of course they still do today.Bonhoeffer thoroughly believed Jesus was calling him to believe in the assasination plot. Can we say that he wasn't? I don't know. One thing I don't want to do is play the proverbial "arm-chair" judge. And I know you're not doing that, but I've seen that done too much. Would Jesus ever want one of his followers to kill an evil despot and save the lives of millions? TO do nothing is not loving others, but then what does it look like to do something?We still have to remember that Jesus' Kingdom is not of this world and isn't spread by fighting; Peter had to put away the sword.So in the end, I'm hoping I never have to be in such a situation. Fortunately God's grace covers all.2.) Just a great question, but I don't have any thoughts! But I think perhaps we ought to be more open.Thanks for your thoughts. My thoughts aren't meant to be confrontational either, so hope they don't sound that way. Just wanted to get some thoughts down on "paper!"
Thanks, G. I did not mean to make you go so deeply into it. The framers of the Westminster standards spilled the most ink on their exposition of the fifth commandment. There is a weighing and balancing of the necessity to respect authority – even Nero – avoiding anarchy and vigilanteism, AND action which may of necessity be required to overthrow a despot. Knowing that he was in some regards a 'lower magistrate' bears some weight for me. But I'm fearful of those who take his example and conclude that, say, we must start knocking off abortion doctors, or even worse, supposedly in the name of Jesus. I'm not presuming at this distance and in my ignorance to judge B as right or wrong, though I think that is not an invalid task. I'm just wanting to take care that in our praise of a man we not inadvertently lend credence to those unstable and less thoughtful among us to do wicked things.