Monday, August 9, 2010

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Prisoner for God: a man's love for his Savior

Over the weekend, I read Prisoner for God, a collection of letters, poems, and essays written from the prison cell by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor and theologian who participated in the German resistance against Nazism.

Bonhoeffer founded the Confessing Church which, at that time, was a beacon of Christian hope and courage, encouraging the German people to persevere in their faith amidst the persecution. Because of his Christian leanings, he was imprisoned in 1943 at Tegel Prison in Berlin. He was later transferred to Prinz Albert Strasse. He was eventually executed in 1945.

The collection was edited by Eberhard Bethge, the "friend" Bonhoeffer was writing to in most parts of the book. In his essay, After Ten Years, he wrote, 

Time lost is time when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavour, enjoyment, and suffering. Time lost is time we have not filled, time left empty.

Bring true to his word, he was able to redeem his time in prison. He spent his time reading, writing, thinking, and praying. His letters reflected this.

Bonhoeffer wanted to reassure his parents that he was doing well. 

You asked me what life is like here. Well, just picture to yourself a cell. It does not need much imagination, in fact the less imagination you have the nearer the mark you will be . . . We are up fourteen hours, and I spend three of them walking up and down the cell—several miles a day, in addition to the half hour in the courtyard. The rest of the time I spend reading, learning things by heart and working.

He would request that they send him books. He was very specific with the titles and authors—I loved this man's passion for reading. He had definite opinions of this or that book, often recommending various literary works.

In his absence, he wanted to show his parents that he loved them dearly. This showed a different side to his person. 

I feel myself so much a part of you all that I know live and bear everything in common, acting and thinking for one another even when we are separated.

His letters to his friend, on the other hand, were of a different sort. He was more detailed in sketching the actual life in prison, hardly sugarcoating things. I think it's because he wanted to spare his old parents from worry, and he knew that Bethge, his closest friend, would be able to take the news better.

I was interested in reading him debate and engage in intellectual wrestling matches. He explained his thoughts on different theological subjects, recommending Bible passages, and composing poems for his friend's perusal. His missives could get very technical. The man was a deep thinker.

What drew me to Bonhoeffer was not his intelligence but his faith and love for the Savior. In his prayers for his fellow prisoners (Christmas, 1943), he wrote:

O God,
Early in the morning do I cry unto thee.
Help me to pray, 
And to think only of thee.
I cannot pray alone.

In me there is darkness, 
But with thee there is light.
I am lonely, but thou leavest me not.
I am restless, but with thee there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with thee there is patience;
Thy ways are past understanding, but
Thou knowest the way for me.

Pastor Bonhoeffer savored the Lord's presence in the quiet and darkness of his prison cell. And it was this love for Christ that led him to say, as he was being dragged to be executed on Sunday, 8 April 1945, "This is the end; for me, the beginning of life."

(Many thanks to Frances Bocobo for lending me the book.)



Anonymous Nico said...

Reading your post sparked my interest on that book. I'll read it soon! :) Hope all's well with you, Lance. :)

Thu Aug 12, 10:22:00 AM GMT+8  
Blogger Lance said...

That's great, Nico. I'm not sure if you can get a copy of that in bookstores, though. A classic masterpiece of Bonhoeffer is The Cost of Discipleship; you'll probably have an easier time spotting that.

Sat Aug 14, 07:21:00 AM GMT+8  

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