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Posts Tagged ‘Death’

My cancer has returned and is expected to be aggressive, which means I know I’m living in my own end times, my own eschaton. I have tried a bit of a thought experiment, trying to use my own situation to better imagine and identify with Bonhoeffer in prison. The circumstances, though, present too great a contrast. I’m home, not feeling too badly, and being cared for by a truly amazing wife.

Yes, like Bonhoeffer, I know the end is near but it is not unjust for me as it was for him. And I am 74, retired, thankful for a long and full life. He never reached 40. My life has been productive in minor ways (I’m glad to have had the privilege of helping people) but his life and his death were both productive in ways few of us will ever experience.

Nonetheless, I have “done my bit,” as the citizens of England used to say during WWII, doing their bit to contribute to the war effort.

Part of what makes Bonhoeffer so admirable is that he so effectively maintained his sense of the sovereignty of God, his trust in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, even when all the earthly evidence suggested that he was the victim of injustice. Injustice is the enemy of God and injustice seemed — to onlookers — to be dominating Bonhoeffer’s last years. Yet he chose to affirm in multiple ways that it was his Lord who reigned in his life. His was a faith deeper than appearances. He walked by faith, not by sight.

And God has been honoring him ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

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It was inevitable that the constant struggle against Nazi evils — made all the worse by the popularity of the Nazi regime in its first ten years — would wear down those who had recognized theĀ  Hitler’s wickedness from the beginning.

Petty people, who define themselves by what they are against rather than what they are for, seem to thrive on conflict and confrontation. Those who are more mature and who know the good they are pursuing, find it to be a great strain when circumstances force them into the unnatural posture of opposition.

When matters are deeply serious and drearily prolonged, death itself becomes no longer an enemy but almost a temptation because it seems to promise relief and rest. “We can no longer hate Death so much; we have discovered something of kindness in his features and are almost reconciled to him. Deep down we seem to feel that we are his already and that each new day is a miracle.”

“Who stands firm?”, Bonhoeffer had asked earlier in After Ten Years. Only the one who stands “in faith and in relationship to God alone,” the one who knows and accepts that he “is called to obedient and responsible action.”

When death becomes a temptation, only a few will stand firm in their active resistance to evil. Bonhoeffer’s hope — and commitment — was that when death came, it would find him “completely engaged in the fullness of life, rather than by accident, suddenly, away from what really matters.”

Or, to put it in language John Wayne* would understand, he wants to die with his boots on.


  • For those outside the US, John Wayne was an film actor who became a symbol of the rugged individualism on which America prided itself in its first two centuries. the attractive ideal of the rugged individualist still lingers in American dreams, though the realities of modern life tie us together in so many and such complex ways that now all we have left is a wistful memory of the good ol’ days.

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