Sunday, 7 May 2017

Bonhoeffer: The Pastor who stood against Hitler.

"It's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?"

These were the words of an adored yet feared leader in WWII. He captured the imagination of a wounded nation, rallied her to war, and nearly conquered the whole of Europe with his charisma, mystery and rage.

Adolf Hitler was his reviled name, and those words were his recursive lamentation.

In fact, Hitler ruled with an ironclad grip for about 12 years with incomprehensible impunity. And up to the very end (30 April 1945), he led with almost absolute ideological madness and incredible good fortune - almost like some divine hedge of protection surrounding him.

If you tally the mortal score, Hitler escaped death on three separate occasions (not counting the time he was serving the German army) with every plot to kill him by bombing missing the target.

At the last failed assassination attempt by a young colonel named Stauffenberg in 1944, Hitler showed much gratitude and beamed with these ironic words: "I see this as another sign from Providence that I must and therefore shall continue my work."

For a time, Hitler declared to the public that he was a Christian. He even announced that his government would make Christianity "the basis of our collective morality." His triumphant call for the church in Germany to rally behind the swastika flag, and not the Cross, was so infectious that one church minister declared, "Christ has come to us through Adolf Hitler."

But God has other plans. Indeed, man proposes, yet it is God who disposes.

Now, I can never understand why Hitler was "spared" numerous attempts on his life, which could have saved millions from the gas chamber and the hanging noose if they had hit the target. But notwithstanding that, not all were silenced under his totalitarian rule of racism, torture and murder. Many were no doubt cowed into subservience, but not one man and his family and in-laws.

If Hitler's reign was one of hypocritical barbarity, then the brief life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the Third Reich was one of fearless authenticity.

If you juxtaposition their lives together, that is, one who uses religion for his own murderous intent and the other who sacrificed his life for his Savior, you will find that Hitler does have a point when he lamented that Christianity is meek (as in weak) and flabby.

Let me explain why.

From its exterior, Christianity has little or nothing to offer. While it was Hitler who ruled with unquestioned loyalty, Bonhoeffer was however languishing in prison for standing up for what he believed. Hitler was himself free to commit his atrocities out in the open, yet Bonhoeffer had to maneuver in the shifting shadows to rally support for his cause at the risk of himself and his loved ones. And while Hitler commanded armies, resources and obedience (out of paralyzing fear), Bonhoeffer was tormented by the thought of suicide, the plague of loneliness and the crucible of sorrow.  

To a bystander, at a quick glance of their respective fate, he would have no difficult singling out the weaker belief or faith.

If you need further convincing, look at Christ at the Cross. Look at the blood, the gore and the pain. Look at the shackles, the nails and the crown of shame. Is that the image of victory, power and strength?

At its core, Christianity goes against the will of man. It is thus seen by the latter as an impediment, an obstacle and visibly powerless.

In other words, it is paradoxical nonsense to those who seek after the success promised by this world. This is the success of wealth, power and fame - not that they are obstacles to believe, but it is our lust for them that ultimately destroys us. Hitler was therefore never a Christian as he had once declared. His allegiance is only to his own rapacious, insatiable, appetites.

CS Lewis once said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” Hitler discovered that early in his leadership. It dawned on him that the historical faith of the German people was a serious hindrance to his own self-fulfillment as a leader. A most inconvenient truth.

You see, Christianity inverses all our worldly values. It constantly reminds us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, to suffer for righteousness, to be poor in spirit, to pin our hope not in this world, to readily forgive and seek repentance, to give of our possessions, and to lay down our life. For those who seek after the treasures of this world seek after the ashes of mortality. Indeed, true religion comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable.

Christianity is therefore an obstacle to Hitler's agenda, or to a man's self-aggrandizement plan. It has little to offer to his government. It is always meek and flabby, soft and wimpy. And ironically, Jesus, once revered by Hitler, who was incidentally a baptized Catholic, as "our greatest Aryan hero", was later considered by the Fuhrer to be a "great heap of mystical out-of-date nonsense".

This is what the Third Reich leader has to say about the clergymen of his time. "They will submit. (They) are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them."

But obviously, Hitler had not met the likes of Bonhoeffer, who was the spoke in the wheels of his government.

While Bonhoeffer was deeply disappointed with the Church at that time for supporting Hitler out of cowardice and self-preservation, he was nevertheless emboldened and comforted by the surpassing peace, love and hope that his belief had given him. He said, "The church has only one pulpit, and from that pulpit, faith in God will be preached, and no other faith, and no other will than the will of God, however well-intentioned."

And he did His Father’s will right to the very end. He did not rely on good intentions, but sacrifice and love to accomplish what his conscience compelled him to do.

So, from its exterior, Christianity has nothing, or little, to offer. But from within, from the heart of conviction, Christianity shatters all delusions. In fact, Christianity is deemed dangerous to the plans of man. It threatens its freedom to act with impunity. It confronts our deepest and darkest fear, insecurities and appetites, and threatens everything we hold dear, precious and inviolable. 

It seeks to transform us in the same way Jesus sought to transform the Rich Young Ruler who walked away in disappointment because he refused to be set free from the things he had blindly drawn his identity, meaning and security from. The Rich Young Ruler placed his comfort before Christ, his idea of a good Christian before the admonishment of Calvary.

Bonhoeffer however understood the call to die intimately. Many times, he could have saved his own life, but he took the road less traveled. Till his last day, he remained true to his faith, preaching to others about the love of his Savior, praying and serving with a servant heart.

It is said that you can tell how a man lives his life by observing how he gives it up.

For Hitler, he took his own life. He shot himself in the head as he bit on a capsule of poison. Hitler trusted no one at the end of his life. He had no peace, no rest. He even offered the poison capsule to his dog blondi as a test before biting on it himself.

Before he died on 30 April 1945, Hitler dictated a political testament. In it, he blamed the Jews for everything he had done. He said, "Above all I charge the leaders of the nation and those under them to scrupulous observance of the laws of race and to merciless opposition to the universal poisoner of all peoples, international Jewry."

Hitler died the same way he lived, that is, devoid of humanity, full of himself. His grave was padded for one – himself.

Bonhoeffer however offered his life for a higher purpose. He died with peace in his heart. Before his death, he wrote these words to the only girl he had ever loved, Maria.

"Stifter (an Austrian novelist) once said, "Pain is a holy angel, who shows treasures to men which otherwise remain forever hidden, through him men have become greater than through all joys of the world." It must be so and I tell this to myself in my present position over and over again - the pain of longing which often can be felt even physically, must be there, and we shall not and need not talk it away. But it needs to be overcome every time and thus there is an even holier angel than the one of pain, that is the one of joy in God."

And this was how Bonhoeffer gave up his life. On 9 April 1945, he and others were led to the gallows in a small courtyard in front of their barracks. They were made to undress and were hanged to their death.

Before Bonhoeffer died, he was seen kneeling and praying. This is what a doctor who observed the execution said about him: "I have never seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."

Let me end with what Bonhoeffer wrote before his arrest:-

"We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?"

Well, if the life of Bonhoeffer is anything to go by, the answer to that question is a resounding "yes". For in living and in dying, Bonhoeffer has shown us the way of our Savior. He has shown us that the power of Christianity lies not in its false exterior, that is, the trapping of power, fame and wealth that snare us when we are seduced by them. Prosperity is not a pre-condition of our faith.

But the power of Christianity lies in the heart. The heart of sacrifice, love and hope is the highest goal and legacy of the call to Calvary. That force is always resilient. It is also lasting. And most of all, it is deeply transforming. Cheerz.

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