Glen A. Kirk
Bonhoeffer's Example of Grace Amidst Suffering.
Take a second and look back at the dates on the photo above. Try to imagine the atmosphere surrounding these thoughts. The years between 1943 to 1945 only need a second to conjure images of what the world was like in that dreadful time. Practically every corner of the globe was reeling from the effects of Hitler’s despotic genocide in Europe. The invasion of Normandy by allied troops liberated France and became another “day that will live in infamy”. President Harry Truman unleashed the atomic bomb on humanity and set the stage for the looming “cold-war” that was to come. Yet still, in the midst of what must have seemed like the end of the world, this unassuming servant reminds us to consider the suffering our neighbor has endured rather than judge them for what they may have done or may have left undone. It illuminates these beautiful words even more to realize what the author was enduring even as he wrote them.
Bonhoeffer wrote what would eventually be published (posthumously) as Prisoner for God: Letters and Papers from Prison (1951) by his friend and fellow anti-Nazi, Eberhard Bethge. Both were arrested in April 1943 for their outspoken defiance of the Nazi party and Hitler’s hate-fueled agenda. They, along with other friends, were later also accused in the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate the German dictator, now known as Operation Valkyrie. Hitler’s rage over the attempt on his life urged him to hasten the torture and execution of Bonhoeffer and his alleged co-conspirators. The final years of Bonhoeffer’s life were spent in Berlin’s Tegel Prison and the Buchenwald concentration camp before his torture and execution at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945. It would be just fourteen days later that American troops would arrive to liberate the captives of Flossenbürg. Mercifully, Bethge was rescued by Soviet troops shortly before his trial was scheduled to take place. He published the letters he received from Bonhoeffer in 1951, ultimately preserving these writings for future study and contemplation.
"Despite Dietrich Bonhoeffer's earlier theological achievements and writings, it was his correspondence and notes from prison that electrified the postwar world." (Spalding, 2022) Bethge's collection helped to spread Bonhoeffer’s insistent message that “the church, like the Christians, ‘had to share in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world’ if it were to be a true church of Christ.” (2022)
View a timeline of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life at PBS.org
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