I honestly can’t remember the first time I heard the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer… I imagine it was in college, but I really don’t know for sure. I do, however, remember being absolutely mesmerized by the story of his life.
Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and pastor who was executed in a Nazi concentration camp just weeks before the German surrender at the end of World War II. He had refused to accept Hitler’s manipulation of the German church in propagating Nazi ideals and eventually took part in a conspiracy to overthrow the regime in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. When the plan failed, he was captured, imprisoned, and eventually killed in a concentration camp called Buchenwald.
Bonhoeffer was an incredible thinker. He thought and taught and wrote with an undying passion for truth, and his faith sustained him in the unimaginable circumstances that the German church faced under Hitler’s rule. It’s crazy to think about the magnitude of pressure he faced and to recognize that somehow – his faith did not waiver. He stood up against evil resolutely. Courageously. Boldly.
How I long to be a follower of Jesus that does the same!
As my pastor recently described, American Christians are currently navigating the “uncoupling” of traditional, Judeo-Christian ethics and values from American culture. On the one hand, this isn’t something that should surprise us—the majority of Christians around the world and through the course of history have always experienced a society at odds with their faith. On the other hand, this is new territory for many of us, and it feels very unsettling. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged.
I think one of the reasons Bonhoeffer sticks out as such a hero of the faith to me is that when he faced cultural “pushback” he was able both recognize that the church was being manipulated and to speak up for what was right. He was unafraid to criticize wrong or call out evil for what it was… all the way to the end of his life. His feet were firmly planted in truth and his faith endured.
How am I doing with endurance?
I can be easily overwhelmed by the evening news. Another shooting of a black man by a white police officer. A terrorist attack that kills hundreds of innocent men and women. Children that are abducted and murdered. Corrupt politicians.
I can be easily overwhelmed by what it looks like to walk with Jesus on any given day. Articulating my faith to someone who doesn’t believe. Confronting a friend with truth and love. Resolving conflict with my husband. Starting small… again and again. Choosing to trust the Lord when the circumstances feel dark. Loving and learning from people who are different from me.
So how do we endure when life and society and the world feel so overwhelming?
Here’s the truth: Enduring faith doesn’t mean you’ll never feel overwhelmed. It does, however, mean that you know where to turn when you’re overwhelmed. That you have a reservoir of faith to lean into. I can’t imagine that Bonhoeffer always felt like things were under control, or that he never wondered about what was around the corner, or that he didn’t grieve deeply over the manipulation of truth he witnessed in the church. But his faith endured. He continued to look to Jesus.
In the moments that we are overwhelmed, we have to choose to,
“… lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” Hebrews 12:1-3
Praise God, we have a perfect example of endurance in Jesus! And because of His Spirit in us, we are also able to endure. To endure every circumstance that comes our way, to endure every difficult conversation, every heavy emotion, every news story, every day of walking with Him.
I’m so grateful for the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but I see clearly that he only followed the example of our older brother, Jesus. “Consider Him who endured,” friends, and be encouraged.
(For a terrific look into the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, check out Eric Metaxas’ book, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.” I’m about halfway through it and it’s amazing!)