“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility… this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”
–Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
Who was Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an anti-Nazi theologian and pastor during World War II. Best remembered for authoring the Christian classics The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Germany and began his journey in church leadership during the rise of the Nazi regime.
Although Bonhoeffer did not grow up in a particularly religious home, he announced his plans to join the church when he was just fourteen. After obtaining his doctorate in theology and working in churches abroad, Bonhoeffer became a priest and lecturer in Berlin at the age of twenty-five.
Hitler’s rise to power just two years later marked a turning point in Bonhoeffer’s career. Despite the mounting cost, Bonhoeffer spoke out against the Führer’s influence. Frustrated by the unwillingness of church leaders to oppose Hitler’s anti-Semitism, Bonhoeffer created the Confessing Church, alongside Martin Niemoller and Karl Barth. Eventually forbidden to teach publicly and forced underground, Bonhoeffer taught seminary students for several years until even the Confessing Church grew reluctant to contradict Nazi leadership. Having lost this opportunity, Bonhoeffer briefly sought asylum in the United States but, after concluding that it was wrong to abandon his friends, returned to Nazi Germany.
Formerly a pacifist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer became persuaded of the need for violence against the Nazi regime and joined a group called the Abwehr, whose primary mission was to assassinate Hitler. Ultimately, Bonhoeffer was arrested for his involvement in helping Jews flee the country. Still, he continued to teach with the help of guards who smuggled out his writing, until he was transferred to a concentration camp. When his association with other Abwehr agents was discovered, Bonhoeffer was sentenced to death. He was hanged in April 1945, just one month before Germany surrendered.
More than seventy years after his death, his life and writings serve as a touchstone for all of us who seek to understand a Christian’s responsibility in the face of injustice — and as an encouragement to serve no matter how great the cost.