Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Feb.04.1906 - Apr.09.1945)

Artist: 
Lewis Williams, SFO

Artist's Narrative:
“If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Confronted with the rise of Hitler and Nazism, this was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s call to action.

Distraught with the complacency of the German Evangelical Church, Bonhoeffer became a founding member of the Confessing Church, which opposed the country’s growing anti-semitism. Intrigued by Gandhi’s adherence to non-violence, the pacifist Bonhoeffer struggled with a response. Opposition grew against his Confessing Church, resulting in it being declared illegal. Bonhoeffer was eventually forbidden to speak publicly, or to publish his writing. Bonhoeffer joined the Abwehr, working in military intelligence. With a Nazi plan to use German Jews as spies in America, Bonhoeffer was able to fund Jews exit from the country under “Operation 7,” with no orders other than to escape! In April, 1943, he, his brother-in-law, and others were then arrested. Many of his letters from prison show his growth in faith, yet hope for release. He was never released. The attempted assassination of Hitler July 20, 1944 was tied to Bonhoeffer and others. He was moved between several camps, and finally, at Flossenburg camp, within a few days of liberation by Allied forces, he was stripped and hanged, April 9, 1945.

In this icon Bonhoeffer stands alone, facing the coldness of his cell, hands held open in prayer. He is shown with a halo, indicative of the holiness that was not stifled by the Nazis or his confinement, but blossomed. He loved God’s creative hand in nature, and that same holy light of hope shines through the bars into his cell. From Tegel, he wrote that he had, “…learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the excluded, the ill-treated, the powerless, the oppressed and despised …so that personal suffering has become a more useful key for understanding than personal happiness.”

As he did, may you walk in faith, and find actions that are appropriate to your faith.

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