Steadfast Love, Post III


The Steadfast Love of the Lord, Post III

“Great salvation he brings to his king and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
    to David and his offspring forever.” Psalm 18:50

REVIEW: In my first two posts, I gave you two stories about dear Christian brothers whom I have known well, Jim Ward and Kurt Lutjens.  In these two stories, I was illustrating the way God works in fallen sinners.  I was showing you that God takes a hold of fallen sinners by giving them faith in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Both Jim Ward as a teacher of music and Kurt Lutjens as a pastor of his people were beautiful examples of the way God works in fallen sinners. God brought those two men to life through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, enabling them to lovingly and effectively serve Christ, His church, and the lost world. Through The Death and Resurrection of Jesus, our great God and Savior enables sinners to bless us and our world. That is a wonderful fact!

We must thank our great God for this beautiful work He is able to do in us and through us.

NOW, I want to give you one more such illustration, one more example of God at work in sinners.  Only this time my illustration may seem much larger to you. It will seem larger because it covers several years and a most significant event in history. It is the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his thirty-nine years on this earth, and his involvement with the second world war and Adolph Hitler. A large picture.

Eric Metaxas has done a magnificent job withthe story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I heartily recommend your reading of his book, Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy. Though Metaxas does not refer to the text quoted above, Psalm 18:50, I personally see Bonhoeffer’s life reflected in this verse. I am saying that the “steadfast love” of God was at work in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life.  From the moment of Dietrich’s birth on February 4, 1906, until he died by hanging in Flossenberg prison on April 9, 1945, we can see our God showing His steadfast love at work in and through the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

You may be having a problem with that last paragraph. Shouldn’t everybody see Pastor Bonhoeffer’s death as a dreadful miscarriage of justice, outright murder of an innocent man by a wicked mad-man?  How can there be anything beautiful in such a horror?

I feel that objection with all my heart. There is sorrow beyond description on the face of this whole story.  Yet I must insist that God is at work here, giving a wonderful kind of beauty even through the shameful death of this dear man. Remember that I am also insisting through this whole blog that THE DEATH OF JESUS is beautiful.  At this point, I am insisting that we must recognize that the death of Bonhoeffer and the death of Jesus fit into the same story, the same history, the same sequence of events, the same fallenness that we all experience.  If one death can be beautiful, as the death of Jesus certainly is, so can the other.  It is just the way God often puts life together.

We expect to fully understand this kind of beauty only after we personally experience the resurrection. But while we are still struggling with the realities of this age, we can profit by seeing present influences at work.  The present influences that the Holy Spirit used so powerfully in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer were simply his parents.  Metaxas tells the story very well, showing how each parent made separate contributions to Dietrich and how they combined beautifully to make the priceless contribution of family love and unity. 

The particular contribution which his mother, Paula, made to his life was her spiritual leadership. Her father and grandfather had both been theologians and preachers of Lutheran persuasion, both ardent lovers of God who filled life with joyful teaching and singing of hymns.  Paula had spent a brief time in school under the influence of the Moravian Herrnhut tradition, which emphasized a vibrantly personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Renata Bethge, Paula’s granddaughter, said of her grandmother, “She was the soul and spirit of the house.” Metaxas writes, “Daily life was filled with Bible reading and hymn singing all of it led by Frau Bonhoeffer. Her reverence for the scriptures was such that she read Bible stories to her children from the actual Bible text … she sometimes used an illustrated Bible, explaining the pictures as she went.” (page 12)

A remarkable effect of Paula’s leadership was the Saturday evening gatherings of the Bonhoeffer family. We learn from Metaxas (pages 10-12, 23, 25, 431) that the family did not frequent church services, but that their Saturday evenings were often spent singing and celebrating the beauties of life as given to us by our loving God. Metaxas recognizes the Bonhoeffers as a “genuinely happy family,” and regards this kind of Godliness as a reason why Dietrich was able to bless the church and the world with Christian leadership.

The particular contribution which his father, Karl Bonhoeffer, made to Dietrich’s life was his vigorous intellectualism.  Metaxas notes that when Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer was called to Berlin to serve as chair of psychiatry and neurology (1912), he exercised a strong influence over his field. Metaxas makes the point that Bonhoeffer refused to admit “unorthodox theories,” holding the ideas of Freud, Jung, and Adler at “arm’s length with a measured skepticism born of his devotion to empirical science” (page 13). Throughout his years in Berlin, Dr. Bonhoeffer continued to exercise this kind of healthy intellectual command over his field, earning him the coveted Goethe medal (page 431), awarded to Bonhoeffer on his 75th birthday. Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer’s eight children all gave evidence of their father’s intellectualism. Each of them entered the kind of science, law, and teaching professions that demanded the same kind of reasoning and deliberation that had characterized their father. Dietrich was not an exception.

As Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer had “stiff-armed” the Freudians, Jung and Adler, so his son Dietrich stiff-armed the Nazis who tried to take over the church.  Having already distinguished himself as a Biblical and theological leader, Dietrich Bonhoeffer stepped forward to refute Nazism in 1933. In early April of that year, he read his essay on “The Church and the Jewish Question” to a group of pastors in Berlin.  Several of those pastors had been supporting Hitler’s insistence that all Jews be removed from membership in German churches.  It appeared that Hitler was going to win his point and evict the Jews from the churches.

Bonhoeffer’s essay was a bombshell! Reasoning from such texts as Galatians 3:28 and Psalm 110:3, the assembled German pastors heard Bonhoeffer conclude his essay with these decisive words (page 150):

What is at stake is by no means whether our German members of congregations can still tolerate church fellowship with Jews. It is rather the task of Christian preaching to say: here is the church, where Jew and German stand together under the Word of God, here is the proof whether a church is still the church or not.

The rest is history.  Hitler seemed to be winning in April 1933.  His apparent victory, however, was short-lived.  Yes, he succeeded in murdering more than six million Jews, but then went down to humiliating defeat, committing suicide on April 30, 1945.  (The next blog-post will complete this World War II episode. Stay with us for this beautiful conclusion!)

                                                                                                                        —  Pastor Paul Alexander

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