“Into the Arms of God”

7068493915_95dc2bd4dd_z“I discovered, and I’m still discovering, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this, I mean living unreservedly with life’s duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”
Those words belong to the late Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and Nazi-opposer, martyred 75 years ago this month. It’s more than appropriate, during these days of unrivaled fear and suffering, that Bonhoeffer’s memory and example be invoked. Like Jesus – the one he followed faithfully to the end – Bonhoeffer chose to “throw himself completely into the arms of God.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was ordained as a Lutheran minister and earned a teaching position at the University of Berlin well before his 30th birthday. The son of a well-connected and prestigious family, he could have safely protected himself within the halls of academia, as did many of his peers, but Hitler and the Nazis proved too much for his ethics and conscience to ignore.
Bonhoeffer resisted the Nazis immediately, one of the rare public voices of opposition, and was especially critical of the persecution of the Jews. He would become a leader of the Confessing Church, a coalition of congregations that spurned rank nationalism for allegiance to the way and words of Jesus. Under threat of imprisonment and worse, Bonhoeffer left Germany, but returned in solidarity with his people, because “Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and to action.”
He was ultimately arrested for subverting Nazi policy, and when his assisting role in a plot against Hitler was discovered, he was sent to the Flossenburg concentration camp. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed on an early April morning in 1945, just weeks before the camp was liberated by Allied forces.
In his short life of four decades Bonhoeffer was a prolific writer. My favorite book of his is one never intended for publication. It is a collection of his letters and musings during his two-year imprisonment. In this collection you witness his struggle, see his faith rise and fall in the crucible of his crisis, and you watch as he develops not a fatalistic resignation – but a hopeful, faith-filled surrender.
Bonhoeffer wrote: “Faith does not mean being redeemed out of our sorrows, hardships, and anxieties. Christians do not have an escape route from our earthly tasks and difficulties.” And returning to his previous quote: “We throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world.”
His was not a belief that he would be rescued from his impossible circumstances. It was solidarity with a suffering God, for God enters the world in those who are hurting, the “least of these,” as Jesus called them. “That, I think, is faith,” Bonhoeffer said, and I think so as well.