Today marks the 70th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s hanging at the hands of the Third Reich.
Bonhoeffer is remembered for his brazen opposition to the rise of the Nazis, and his involvement in the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler, in an effort to eradicate the wickedness of the movement that was murdering millions of innocent and helpless people at an alarming rate. Bonhoeffer boldly stood as one among few who opposed the rise of the Third Reich in the midst of a post-modern Germany. Most didn’t recognize the subtle evil that bred quietly in the easy promises offered by the movement of the Third Reich; it was full of “hope” for the young, the working class, and to those who saw themselves victimized by capitalism (which later becomes synonymous with the Jewish people). The propagandist department subtly inserted racial prejudices, and “might is right” philosophy within a tapestry that was palatable to a young Germany who saw themselves as crushed after the first war. The post-modernist perspective was the perfect breeding grounds for the cancer of Nazism. And Hitler, a highly intelligent man who craved power and worshiped Nietzsche’s philosophy of humanity progressing, took full advantage, capitalizing on the evil that lies in the deep recesses of the hearts of humanity.
Long before the world recognized the threat of the Nazi party, Bonhoeffer pleaded with the German people to recognize the evil that lurked beneath what they thought was a government promising Utopia. And his pleas are as applicable today as they were 70 years ago.
Our world is full of “good” people, who, with an ecstatic zeal aim to change the world and usher in the newest promised Utopia, but they are doomed to fail, to be fools, or to rush headlong into further evil. Because goodness is not achievable apart from the will of God and the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are doomed to take a white canvas and turn it gray when we aim at goodness apart from the living and creating God; the longer we paint by our own strengths and ideals the darker that canvas will become until there is no decipherable image and we have all but obliterated the very goodness we sought in the beginning. Our only hope lies in the God who created us, and who promises to re-create us in Christ, there is no utopia apart from him. We are living in the in-between, the time before his ultimate return that will bring perfection and the peace and justice that everyone truly craves. But we cannot be taken in my the gamut of “isms” that come and go throughout time; their definitions of peace and justice are centered on a relativity of goodness defined by humanity and as such they result in their own injustices and conflict.
We as Christians can only stand by God’s ethics and continually repeat the hope of the cross to a world that doesn’t know how deeply it desires that bloody, grace-filled love.
Reason, moral fanaticism, conscience, duty, free responsibility and silent virtue, these are the achievements and attitudes of noble humanity. It is the best of men who go under in this way, with all that they can do or be. Here is the immortal figure of Don Quixote, the knight of the doleful countenance, who takes a barber’s dish for a helmet and a miserable hack for a charger and who rides into endless battles for the love of a lady who does not exist.
[…]A man can hold his own here only if he can combine simplicity with wisdom. But what is simplicity? What is wisdom? And how are the two to be combined? To be simple is to fix one’s eyes solely on the simple truth of God at a time when all concepts are being confused, distorted and turned upside-down.
Ethics, By Deitrich Bonhoeffer