Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today, in 1945, Lutheran pastor, theologian, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at the age of thirty-nine years by the Nazis. There is some evidence that he had favoured a pacifist way of life. However ethically, after wrestling with the situation in Nazi Germany, he believed that under certain circumstances violence was necessary in the resistance of evil in the political realm for the greater good of society. So he involved himself in a plan to kill Hitler, and eventually he and others were discovered by the Gestapo, imprisoned and executed by the Nazis.

   Two of my favourite passages from Bonhoeffer’s writings are from his The Cost of Discipleship and Letters & Papers from Prison.

   Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

   Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a [person] will gladly go and sell all that [s]he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all [her or]his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man [or woman] will pluck out the eye which causes [her or]him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves [her or]his nets and follows him.

   Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man [or woman] must knock.

   Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a [person their] life, and it is grace because it gives a [person] the only true life. The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., Twentieth Printing, 1978), pp. 46 & 47.

And his beautiful poem, “Who Am I?”

   Who am I? They often tell me/I stepped from my cell’s confinement/Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,/Like a squire from his country-house./Who am I? They often tell me/I used to speak to my warders/Freely and friendly and clearly,/As though it were mine to command./Who am I? They also tell me/I bore the days of misfortune/Equably, smilingly, proudly,/Like one accustomed to win.

   Am I then really all that which other men tell of?/Or am I only what I myself know of myself?/Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,/Struggling for breath, as though hands were/compressing my throat,/Yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,/Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,/Tossing in expectation of great events,/Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,/Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,/Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?/

   Who am I? This or the other?/Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?/Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,/And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?/Or is something within me still like a beaten army,/Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?/

   Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine./Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine! Letters & Papers from Prison (London & Glasgow: Collins Fontana Books, Seventh Impression, August 1965), p. 173.

About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: gwh photos:

4 Responses to Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  1. I read the life of Bonhoeffer also. Remarkable individual and courageous. The untold story of those dark days of terror under Hitler and the Nazi machine is the resistance of the Confessional German Lutherans who were brutally persecuted, many martyred, still others died in Concentration Camps. These bold believers refused to join with compromising Lutheran churches which caved in to Hitler’s demands that Christianity, if practiced at all, needed to be subordinate to the National Socialist Party and loyal to Hitler alone. There is a lesson here for us as well. As this land of ours becomes less friendly to all but post modernist liberal leaning Christian churches, persecution will be intensified against Bible believing Christians and denominations which oppose homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, and the suppression of religious convictions and free speech. The pattern of life in America, in my humble view, is moving steadily in this direction. Like Germany during the years of Bonhoeffer, many Christians will either fall away from the faith to avoid conflict, or join the small numbers who will stand for the word of God in spite of the opposition. Like Bonhoeffer, each of us living in such circumstances would be tasked with a choice…..

  2. dimlamp says:

    Thanks for taking time to comment. We Christians constantly shoot ourselves in the foot by trying to divide, judge, label, stereotype and condemn one another. We are all imperfect sinners: homosexual or heterosexual, liberal or conservative, or whatever classification you want to give people-we all need Jesus our Messiah. He calls us all to respond to his grace by being faithful to him in serving him by serving a world that needs his love and acceptance. That, I think, is why Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him.

  3. Gerry C. says:

    Bravo! I studied theology in university. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Erich Fromme and many more theological/ humanistic writers all share the message of love and forgiveness. Thanks for sharing.

    “In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”
    ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

  4. dimlamp says:

    Thanks for your comment, along with this excellent Bonhoeffer quotation.

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