09 April 2015

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: theologian and martyr

Today is the seventieth anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s execution in Flossenburg concentration camp. His last words to a fellow inmate were, ‘This is the end – but for me, the beginning – of life.’ His life, and particularly his death, is a salutary reminder to all Christians that we cannot avoid being political. As Christians, we do not have the luxury to remain silent;

Bonhoeffer is primarily remembered for his theology and his opposition to Hitler, but he also wrote a number of hymns and poems. Here is a translation of his best-known hymn (which if I remember correctly he wrote while in prison). The words seem peculiarly appropriate:

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
And confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
Still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
Oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, You taught us to prepare.

And when this cup You give is filled to brimming
With bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.

Yet when again in this same world You give us
The joy we had, the brightness of Your Sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be Yours alone.