Today is the 70th anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the Flossenbürg concentration camp. I’m privileged to offer a brief reflection on Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy over at Public Discourse.
I’ve been working on Bonhoeffer’s thought for over a decade now, and I’m often struck by the depth of his conviction and insight in such troubled times. One of the things about him that I try to highlight in the Public Discourse piece is how Bonhoeffer’s courageous action for the world today was rooted in hopefulness for the world to come. As so many others have often pointed out, and rightly so, Bonhoeffer’s theology and biography are intimately related.
For example, in principle Bonhoeffer affirmed God’s institution of marriage: “Through marriage human beings are procreated for the glory and service of Jesus Christ and the enlarging of Christ’s kingdom.” But even when faced with the dangers of resistance to Hitler and the travails of war and social discord, he took the step of proposing to Maria von Wedemeyer. Planning to marry her was an act of courage, a concrete form of affirming and accepting God’s will for this world.
There is an apocryphal saying attributed to the sixteenth-century reformer Martin Luther, that “if I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.” As Scott Hendrix writes, this saying (although it has precedent in a story attributed to Francis of Assisi) actually arises from the Nazi era in Germany: “Scholars believe it originated in the German Confessing Church, which used it to inspire hope and perseverance during its opposition to the Nazi dictatorship.”
Bonhoeffer lived out his own form of that insight through his engagement to Maria in 1943, shortly before his arrest and eventual execution. May Bonhoeffer’s life and work continue to inspire hope and perseverance even in the midst of our suffering and confusion.