Dietrich Bonhoeffer: a witness of Jesus Christ

Learning from Bonhoeffer’s Imprisonment

(i) A confession of faith

“I am sure of God’s hand and guidance … You must never doubt that I am thankful and glad to go the way which I am being led. My past life is abundantly full of God’s mercy and, above all sin, stands the forgiving love of the Crucified.”

(ii) A poem (”Who am I?”)

“Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!”

(iii) A prayer

“May God in HIs mercy lead us through these times. But above all may He lead us to Himself!” (July 21, 1944).

These quotations are taken from Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison.”


Learning from Bonhoeffer’s Death

To the end, Bonhoeffer exhibited a marvellous courage and compassion.

The day before his execution was a Sunday. The prisoners were permitted to have a service with him as the minister.

He spoke on “the Scripture passages for the day: “Through His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5) and “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again into a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).”

One of his fellow-prisoners, Captain Payne Best, a British officer who survived the War, remembers this service like this: “He reached the hearts of all, finding just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, and the thoughts and resolutions which it brought.”

Following this simple service with its focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Bonhoeffer was taken away to his own death.

The events which followed this simple service have been described thus: “Together with Bonhoeffer, all looked forward thankfully and hopefully into the future. The little service ended. Then, during the moments of stillness that succeeded it, the door was flung open and two men stood in the doorway. ‘Prisoner Bonhoeffer, take your things and come with us.”

His last word to Payne Best were, “for me this is the end, but also the beginning, the beginning of life.”

Following a so-called “trial”, Bonhoeffer was executed the following morning.

Writing many years later, the prison doctor gives us a wonderful picture of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he faced his death: “On the morning of the day, some time between five and six o’clock … Through the half-open door of a room in one of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, still in his prison clothes, kneeling in fervent prayer to the Lord his God. the devotion and evident conviction of being heard that I saw in the prayer of this intensely captivating man moved me to the depths” (Quotations in this post are taken from Mary Bosanquet’s book, The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pp. 277-278).

May God move us deeply by this picture of simple faith. May each of us be deeply moved to come in faith to the Saviour who died so that we, through faith in Him, might receive the forgiveness of all our sins. May we be deeply moved to trust in the Saviour who was raised again that we, through faith in Him, might receive eternal life.

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