by Dargan Thompson
February 6, 2014
Initially, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s parents discouraged him from studying theology.
The Bonhoeffers were an upper-middle class German family of doctors and scientists, so going into ministry was not thought to be a fitting profession for their sixth child.
It’s a good thing for the modern Church that Bonhoeffer was determined in his course. There’s no doubt that Bonhoeffer, who was born 108 years ago this week, is one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century.
Bonhoeffer’s thoughts are powerful in and of themselves, but even more so in the context of his circumstances. As a pastor in Germany in the era between WWI and WWII, he saw firsthand the subtle shifts in the German church and the German consciousness.
Many of Bonhoeffer’s actions seem nonsensical when viewed with an objective eye. He split from the German Church to form the Confessing Church, he got involved in an assassination plot (against Hitler), he returned to Germany from the safety of the U.S. right before the war reached its worst. But put all together, they reveal the story of a man of great conviction, who was willing to go against the norm and undergo suffering for his people and for the God he was committed to following. He was a man who, by the end of his life, really understood the cost of discipleship that he famously wrote about.
Bonhoeffer was killed at a concentration camp just a few months after his 39th birthday, but his legacy continues. Even today, almost 60 years after his death, Bonhoeffer’s life is a challenge to us all to pursue justice even when it’s not popular, to care for and defend the persecuted and to relentlessly follow God’s leading.
He had much wisdom to share—his numerous books are not the easiest reads, but are well worth reading in full—but for now, here are 12 of his quotes that are sure to give you some food for thought:
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“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.”
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
- The Cost of Discipleship
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“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”
“If we are to learn what God promises and what he fulfils, we must persevere in quiet meditation on the life, sayings, deeds, sufferings, and death of Jesus. It is certain that we may always live close to God and in the light of his presence, and that such living is an entirely new life for us; that nothing is then impossible for us, because all things are possible with God; that no earthly power can touch us without his will, and that danger and distress can only drive us closer to him. It is certain that we can claim nothing for ourselves, and may yet pray for everything; it is certain that our joy is hidden in suffering, and our life in death; it is certain that in all this we are in a fellowship that sustains us. In Jesus God has said Yes and Amen to it all, and that Yes and Amen is the firm ground on which we stand.”
“O Heavenly Father,
I praise and thank you
For the peace of the night;
I praise and thank you for this new day;
I praise and thank you for all your goodness and
faithfulness throughout my life.
You have granted me many blessings;
Now let me also accept what is hard
from your hand.
You will lay on me no more
than I can bear.
You make all things work together for good
for your children .... ”
(First Christmas Prayer from Prison)
- Letters and Papers from Prison
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“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
"Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic. Do not defend God's word, but testify to it. Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity."
“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
“When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”
"The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them."
- Life Together
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“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.”
"God does not love some ideal person, but rather human beings just as we are, not some ideal world, but rather the real world."
- Meditations on the Cross
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Dargan Thompson is a writer and editor who loves music, traveling and deep conversations. She also loves grammar and is one of the editors at RELEVANT. You can follow her extremely random train of thought on Twitter@darganthompson.
For Dietrich's biograhy go to the Wikipedia - click link here
Amazon.com's Bonhoeffer page - click link here