Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

I received this biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for my birthday this year.  I knew basically nothing about Mr. Bonhoeffer before reading this book, BONHOEFFER: PASTOR, MARTYR,PROPHET, SPY  by Eric Metaxes.  I found Bonhoeffer's life, and situation, fascinating. it is now one of my favorite books.

 Metaxas starts the book with Bonhoeffer's funeral/memorial service in England, which was broadcast over the radio.  He explains that Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who was executed during World War II for his part in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer's parents were listening to the broadcast in Germany, and this  was the first confirmation they had that their son was dead.

Metaxas then takes you back in time and begins the story of Bonhoeffer's life.  He explains that Bonhoeffer's choosing to become a pastor (declaring his intentions when 14 years old)was a surprise to his family, several of whom criticized and teased him for it.  Bonhoeffer's choice, growing up in the family that he did surprises me, especially since his father was a psychiatrist, and not a Christian.

We are eventually brought to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany.  This is the part that I found most interesting, observing the church's struggles with what do do in this situation. A great part of the German church ended up being slowly sucked in to Nazi beliefs.  Bonhoeffer did not choose to join the majority of the German 'church' in accepting Nazi principles, not even to try to defeat it from within.  "…when someone asked Bonheoffer whether he shouldn't join the' German Christians'(Nazi church ) in order to work against them from within, he answered that he couldn't.  'If you board the wrong train," he said, "it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.'" After fighting for a while to keep the German 'church' in line with the Bible,  Bonhoeffer was about to be drafted into the German army.  Although Bonhoeffer let his seminary students make their own choices about this(they could be shot for not joining)  he did not feel that he could join with a good conscience.  He  managed to avoid being drafted by joining the Abwer, German Intelligence(which was secretly working against Hitler).

Bonhoeffer then turns 'spy' for the good Germans.  I found it rather funny because, as a member of German Intelligence, he was in actuality working against the German Reich(spy), and was supposed to be pretending to be a pastor as his disguise in this job, when he was in actuality a pastor.  He ended up being involved in several plots against Hitler, giving information about who the 'good Germans' were to an English 'bishop' .who would deliver the information to the British. A little while after becoming engaged to a young lady named Maria, Bonhoeffer was  arrested and placed in prison.  As Metaxas notes, he wasn't arrested for being a part of an assassination plot, although he would be killed for it.  The Gestapo did not know about that yet, he was arrested because of his involvement in 'Operation 7"(which operation helped several Jews escape from Germany).

I want to note here that I don't agree with everything Bonhoeffer believed and did.  As part of his work for as a spy, he pretended to be a Nazi pastor, deceiving, and even lying to, the Nazis.  Although his reasoned justification for doing this is interesting, and perhaps even makes logical sense,  I'm not so sure it's Biblical.  And also, at least in his earlier year,s he seemed a bit too welcoming of other 'Catholics' for instance. And he seemed too liturgical in his Christian life, even desiring Christian 'monastical type' living.  He even wanted to visit Gandhi in India to study his 'communal living'(not accepting his religious beliefs) , and his pacifist way of resisting government.  It seems that he may have changed his views on several of these things(like liturgical 'living') while in prison.  And he definitely, as is evidenced by his involvement in the conspiracies against Hitler, ended up rejected the pacifist 'resistance' of Gandhi; going so far as to say that, if necessary, he would be willing to do the job of killing Hitler himself. And one last thing...Bonhoeffer seemed to lean too close to a ...shall I say 'mystical' or spiritual, Hermeneutic,  to me he seems like a mix of C.S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, Puritans and Covenant Theologians.  And this ends my critique.

Anyway, the failure of the famous 'Valkyrie' plot was the cause of Bonhoeffer's death.  It was probably the table around which the Nazi leaders were standing that stopped the bomb from killing Hitler.  As Mataxas put it, " But something called a socle would literally get in the way, would divide the vector of the historic blast away from the intended target....A socle is a massive plinth used as a support.   In the case of the huge oaken table in this map room, there were two of them, one at either end...This freakish, legless table would play a part in the murders of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his brother Klaus, and his two brothers -in-law, Stauffenberg and Haeften, and hundreds of other conspirators, not to mention the millions of innocents at that moment suffering in the miserable desperation in death camps.  It is a fact and a mystery that the course of history hinged on a quirk of furniture design." Why God chose to have the plot fail,we do not know, but God knows best, and does the best, whether we understand and see it or not. 

After the plots failure, Bonhoeffer was moved to a Gestapo prison and thence to a consentration camp.  Eventually, more evidence was found regarding the conspiracy,and Bonhoeffer was executed on April 9, 1945.  As he was about be taken to his trial before the 'People's Court', and thence sentenced to execution, he turned to a man near him and said, "This is the end, for me the beginning of life". And, it struck me that, right before he was about to be executed he prayed to God.  I know I've read similar instances of Christians praying before/as they are about to be executed, but it had never struck me as this did.  That Bonhoeffer was talking to God just before He was about to meet Him 'in person'.  He was about to meet His God, His Savior, face to face.

I'll end with a quote of Bonhoeffer's:

"In life with Jesus Christ, death as a general fate approaching us from without is confronted by death from within, one's own death, the free death of daily dying with Jesus Christ.  Those who live with Christ die daily to their own will.  Christ in us gives us over to death so that he can live within us.  Thus our inner dying grows to meet that death from without.  Christians receive their own death in this way, and in this way our physical death very truly becomes not the end but rather the fulfillment of our life with Jesus Christ.  Here we enter into community with the One who at his own death was able to say, 'It is finished.'"

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