Bonhoeffer’s Last Words, Before He Was Hanged (76 Years Ago Today)

Source: German Federal Archive
Source: German Federal Archive

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in the Nazi concentration camp of Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the U.S. military came to liberate it.

John W. de Gruchy describes the lead-up to that day in his Editor’s Introduction to Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, volume 8):

On October 8 [of 1944], Bonhoeffer was taken to the cellar of the Gestapo prison on Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, where he stayed until February 7, 1945. From then on, all correspondence came to an end, and contact between Bonhoeffer and the family and [Eberhard] Bethge was broken. From there Bonhoeffer was taken first to Buchenwald and then, via the village of Schönberg in Bavaria, to the Flossenbürg concentration camp, where he arrived on April 8. That evening he was tried by a hastily rigged court and condemned to death. Early the next morning Bonhoeffer was executed along with several other coconspirators.

He was hanged April 9. His family would not learn about it for several months.

The July before he had written to his trusted friend (and later biographer) Eberhard Bethge, one day after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. He wrote:

How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world? You understand what I mean even when I put it so briefly. I am grateful that I have been allowed this insight, and I know that it is only on the path that I have finally taken that I was able to learn this. So I am thinking gratefully and with peace of mind about past as well as present things. …

May God lead us kindly through these times, but above all, may God lead us to himself.

His final recorded words before his hanging are especially appropriate in these days that lead up to Easter Sunday:

This is the end–for me the beginning of life.


This post is one I’ve re-posted a few times on April 9. It began as part of the “Tuesdays in Lent with Bonhoeffer” I wrote when I first got into Bonhoeffer. See other gathered Bonhoeffer posts here.

A Verse for Holy Week

Lent can help us recalibrate our anthropology:

καὶ γὰρ ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς εἰρήνης μου, ἐφ̓ ὃν ἤλπισα,
ὁ ἐσθίων ἄρτους μου, ἐμεγάλυνεν ἐπ̓ ἐμὲ πτερνισμόν·

Psalm 40:10 (LXX)

Indeed, the person at peace with me, in whom I hoped,
he who would eat of my bread, magnified trickery against me.

(NETS translation)

Jesus will apply this verse to Judas in John 13:18: The one who ate bread with me has turned his back on me.

And this was one of the 12! Even one of Jesus’s inner circle would turn his back on him. A sobering reminder of all that Jesus endured as we “journey toward the cross” this week.

Tempered Resilience (Tod Bolsinger)

Book cover of Tempered Resilience

 

The best way to introduce you to Tod Bolsinger’s new book is through a couple of quotations that wowed me:

A teachable learning mindset leads to a greater capacity for staying in a difficult position, taking on a particularly difficult task or standing up to resistance, because there is an inherent assurance that if all else fails this trial will—if nothing else—lead to further growth.

This sobering word, too:

A major difficulty in sustaining one’s mission is that others who start out with the same enthusiasm will come to lose their nerve. Mutiny and sabotage came not from enemies who opposed the initial idea, but rather from colleagues whose will was sapped by unexpected hardships along the way.

And this, which I shared with our church’s leadership and several other pastors I know:

One of the genuine crises of Christian leadership today is how inward focused it is. A movement founded on the salvation and transformation of the world often becomes consumed with helping a congregation, an organization, or educational institution survive, stay together, or deal with rampant anxiety (often all at the same time). It’s not enough to turn around a declining church, resolve conflict, restore a sense of community, regain a business’s market share, return an organization to sustainability, or even “save the company.” The question before any leader of an organization is “save the company for what?”

Bolsinger’s guiding metaphor is from blacksmithing: “To temper describes the process of heating, holding, hammering, cooling, and reheating that adds stress to raw iron until it becomes a glistening knife blade or chisel tip.” Others may find his drawing on the blacksmithing process more compelling than I did. I would have gladly taken Bolsinger’s wisdom straight up, sans analogy. (As in the quotes above.)

If you thought being sabatoged was unique to you? Par for the course, apparently. Bolsinger doesn’t deny the reality of church dysfunction; he seems to assume it. But then he equips the reader with how to lead resiliently in the face of adversity–even adversity coming from within. (“The call is coming from inside the house.”)

Bolsinger describes a “six-step process”:

1. Working: Leaders are formed in leading.
2. Heating; Strength is forged in self-reflection.
3. Holding: Vulnerable leadership requires relational security.
4. Hammering: Stress makes a leader.
5. Hewing: Resilience takes practice.
6. Tempering: Resilience comes through a rhythm of leading and not leading.

Despite a few dry moments or chapters that I thought could have been edited down, Tempered Resilience is an encouraging and empowering read. It’s offered me great encouragement these last few months, as well as given me a framework and tools to better understand the “crucible” of church leadership.

Tempered Resilience is available here (IVP) and here (Amazon/affiliate link).

 

Thanks to the good folks at IVP for the review copy, via NetGalley, sent without expectations of the content of my review.

Plug for Waltke’s Micah Commentary

waltke-micah

 

Bruce Waltke’s Commentary on Micah is on sale for $12.90 in Accordance for a while longer. Even at its list price of $27.90, it’s a bargain.

It’s been a while since I used it in depth, but whenever I have plunged its depth, I’ve been astounded at Waltke’s attention to detail, analysis of the text, and careful treatment of the grammar (and so much more). He has other Micah volumes available, even: Tyndale and McComiskey. But this stand-alone volume is the one it seems he really wanted to write, the volume that was far too long for inclusion in any series. He says in the preface that he treated each pericope as if it were a doctoral dissertation.

When I wrote a lengthy exegesis paper on a Micah passage in seminary, this commentary was close at hand. I used the library copy extensively, then bought myself a hard copy afterwards to celebrate. (I do love the smell of Eerdmans books.) When it became available in Accordance, I quickly made it one of a handful of double purchases, where I get a book in print and Accordance, so that I could access it electronically, as well.

No kickback for me on this post… just one of the best commentaries I’ve ever used for in-depth, original language work (especially text criticism), so wanting to give it its due.

Thomas Merton’s Prayer in Uncertainty

I’ve loved this prayer of Thomas Merton’s since I visited Abbey of Gethsemani as a teenager:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Kevin J. Youngblood’s Excellent Jonah Commentary, Second Edition

 

I preached through Jonah in Advent 2014. It remains one of my favorite series to prepare and preach–unlikely liturgical pairing notwithstanding.

In those days, I read as many Jonah commentaries as I could get my hands on. Kevin J. Youngblood’s rose to the top. Then it was part of a series called Hearing the Message of Scripture. Now it has been released in its second edition, with the series name being changed to the less exciting Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament, to bring OT volumes in line with the NT volumes of the same overall series.

Zondervan was gracious to send me a review copy of the Second Edition.

The changes are minor, and they are really only three:

  1. The re-branded series name
  2. Transliterated Hebrew is replaced with actual Hebrew text (yay!)
  3. The author’s translation and visual layout of the text includes the original Hebrw text now, too

Here, for example, is how that text layout section has changed (the new edition is the one on the bottom):

 

 

Otherwise, the text is identical to the first edition. (Even the Bibliography has not been updated, from what I can see.) So if you own the first edition, there’s no need to also get the second. But if you don’t own this commentary, by all means, check it out from a library or purchase it. Even if you don’t know Hebrew, this is an excellent guide to a beautiful and challenging biblical book.

For my full review of the first edition (which all applies to the second edition), see here.