He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”Psalm 91:1-2 (ESV)
Today is the 75th anniversary of the death of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazi regime only weeks before the liberation of the Flossenbürg concentration camp.
Bonhoeffer remains a prominent figure in Christian history, not simply for his resistance to Hitler, but also for his many influential works including The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. His legacy teaches us that even during the most trying times, God is faithful
In the 1940s, Bonhoeffer organized an illegal seminary (the first in European history) in the hopes of edifying his people both then and after the war. Friends had arranged for Bonhoeffer to teach in America, which he did briefly, but he decided ultimately that he needed to be in Germany during the war that he might shepherd his people after the war.
Wrote Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship, “Jesus asks the Father that the cup pass from him, and the Father answers his Son’s prayer. The cup of suffering will indeed pass by Jesus, but only insofar as it is drunk. When he kneels for the second time in Gethsemane, Jesus knows that suffering will pass by insofar as he undergoes it. Only by bearing suffering will he overcome and conquer it. His cross is the overcoming of suffering.”
Bonhoeffer lived these words: if the cup of suffering were to pass by him, he would have to partake. Whatever the outcome, he would trust in the Lord.
A doctor who witnessed the theologian’s execution remembered: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
Journey through the Psalms
A little over ten years ago, I adopted the practice of meditating upon the Psalms each night and each morning. I was inspired by Bonhoeffer who regularly meditated upon that book, in addition to his deeper exegetical study of scriptures. So I read the Psalms without expectation. I conduct no word study, pursue no course of inquiry, and make minimal notes. Instead, I open my ears to hear what God might say through his Holy Word. And how the Lord speaks!
It’s not that the Psalms say something different each time we read them, but that our different experiences draw to light different aspects of that book. The Psalms testify that God meets our needs “in whatever situation” and “in any and every circumstance.”
From this journey through the Psalms, I will preach a sermon series (April 26 & May 3 and May 17 & 24). My subject is finding peace with God and in God. Now I had begun preparing for this series before the pandemic, and how different the topic seems today. But also how similar. For God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Part of Bonhoeffer’s legacy is this trust in God’s steadfastness. What matters is not the outcome, but the journey upward toward our heavenly Father.
Word of encouragement from Africa
Psalm 91 was suggested to me by our friend in Africa (unnamed here for security reasons), who wrote, “I am now translating the Psalms. As I do this, I realize how deep and relevant the Word of God is! Psalm 91 is full of God’s promises of protection for the world’s current situation.”
The psalm begins with a confession: “I will say…” And it is a confession not directed toward people, but to God. The psalmist does not say, “You are…” but rather names God as “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Bonhoeffer lived in this reality, beckoned his students toward this reality, and called the church to hope in this reality of God. Whether then or now, here or in Europe (or Africa), God declares, “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.”