Lesson 8: Final Thoughts on Bonhoeffer

I really have been overwhelmed rereading Bonhoeffer. As I have repeatedly reported, I was not that impressed when I first studied him in divinity school. At that time, I was caught up in the civil rights movement and naively felt we had learned how to speak truth to power. Now, I feel he has a lot to teach us.

It is not so much that Donald Trump is a Hitler, but that few or none of us have learned to handle the tremendous power of the nation state in our modern technological age. People like Trump operate as if we are living in pre-World War II times. They continually try to get their way by threatening to use the power they possess. Just about every week we hear the leader of the First World warn that he can exterminate whole nations if he chooses. We seldom stop to acknowledge this is the first time in history that he actually could do that in few hours. Bonhoeffer forces us to ask what the world would be like if Hitler developed the atomic bomb before the Allies. Then we must acknowledge that soon just about every leader of a nation state will possess that power.

Two thoughts constantly went through my mind as I wrote these lessons. The first was Dr. Martin Luther King’s warning that in these times we have to learn to follow Christ and love our enemies or else. Saving the world depends on love, not power. Promoting a life-affirming culture depends more on discussing questions about the violence of war than the abuses of abortion.

The second thought was Jesus’ words about anger and murder in the Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire….You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

In our time, the Savior’s words are not so much hyperbole as reality. In our modern technological age, anger easily and quickly can lead to murder, whether an individual with an automatic gun or a nation with a nuclear bomb.

My online and face-to-face conversations with many of you also led me to see direct lines running from the Egyptian Pharaoh’s attempts to wipe out the Hebrew nation to Auschwitz and Hiroshima to Abu Gharib and the American detention camps on the Mexican border. In a modern society without moral values, genocide is the most efficient way to get what you want.

While mulling these thoughts I had to prepare a sermon for a peace church. One of you challenged me to say something addressing the anxiety and horror people are experiencing in our present political situation. I found myself focusing first on the most fundamental statement about the divine in the Old Testament: God heard our cries, saw our suffering, and came to save us even though at the time we did not even remember who he was. I then ended with God’s invitation to join him building a beloved community in which all people are embraced. Bonhoeffer reminds us what this might entail. As John commented, he challenges to ask if we are “all in.”

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4 Enlightened Replies

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  1. KERRY WALTERS says:

    “In our time, the Savior’s words are not so much hyperbole as reality. In our modern technological age, anger easily and quickly can lead to murder, whether an individual with an automatic gun or a nation with a nuclear bomb.”

    Thanks for this series. It’s given me much to think about and pray on!

  2. Rita Yeasted says:

    We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
    — St. Francis of Assisi

  3. Sister Susan says:

    Check your registration and vote. Not trying to be a smart ass, but doing
    what is in my power to do.

  4. Fritz Foltz says:

    Among the responses I received to the series was one from a friend who sent a letter that Gandhi sent to Hitler. It provoked so much thought I decided to post it in two weeks. Next week I am sending a sermon I wrote for a peace church last Sunday. A friend challenged me to include Bonhoeffer’s insights .

    As I have repeatedly reported, I have been overwhelmed by how much people see Bonhoeffer addressing our present problems.

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