Friday, January 06, 2012

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Last Words

I watched another excellent documentary today entitled Hanged on a Twisted Cross: The Life, Convictions and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When I was in college, I wrote a 50 page thesis on the life, work and implications of Bonhoeffer and I must admit that I've always bristled a bit at calling him a martyr as he was executed for actual crimes committed against the state. He was, in my view, right to commit those crimes and I can only hope that I would be so resolved if I were in his position. But it does seem to me that his death is distinct from that of a brother or sister who is killed merely for proclaiming the name of Christ. 

But, at the end of the day, this is a very minor debate. Bonhoeffer was a true man of God and I admire him very much. He thought rigorously, he believed deeply, and he lived boldly. He died on April 9, 1945 at the young age of 39, sadly only days before Hitler himself committed suicide and the war came to an end. It is reported by those who were with him just prior to his death that his final words were these: "This is the end - for me the beginning of life."  

I'm sure, given some things he said in his now famous Letters from Prison, that Bonhoeffer felt fleshly fear about the process of dying. Others thought him so brave, even some of his German prison guards (one of whom tried to help him escape), but he himself struggled with whether or not this was true. Surely such a fate would try any of us to the core. However, I'm also sure that he meant the words he spoke at last. I'm sure he knew Jesus well and had an assurance that he was about to see with his eyes the one who had saved him by faith. And I'm sure that he will live in loving embrace with Jesus forever--indeed, April 9, 1945 was the beginning of an eternity separate from sin and full of glorious and ever-increasing affections for Jesus.

Father, thank you for the deep work you did in and through Dietrich Bonhoeffer. May we likewise surrender ourselves fully to your will and ways in our lives by the power and mercy of Jesus, amen.

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