Biographies can make us sit up and say, “I want to be more like this person.” And this is a biography that has that quality in spades. Bonhoeffer is a poster-man for self-discipline, focus, and drive. His life was a daily quest to live as God would want him to live. Reading this bio was an experience — like being in the presence of a person who inspires me to live more intentionally. And there’s plenty of rich documentation because he was so prolific, writing letters, journals, papers, books. Here are a few reasons I was inspired by Bonhoeffer. He was:
Generous and other-centered. He poured himself into others — seminary students, friends, classmates, neighbors, fellow prisoners, guards. He shared ideas. He shared books. He wrote letters. He purchased and sent gifts. He shared food, even on his last ride to the prison where he would die.
Curious and adventurous. Bonhoeffer was always ready to learn. He sailed from Germany to America in the 1930s and ended up driving with friends from New York to Mexico — to learn more about the Catholic church there.
Integrated. Bonhoeffer announced at age 13 that he intended to be a theologian, and this study of God and Scripture became his lifelong vocation. He devoured Scripture, reading and memorizing and chewing on the meaning and implication. At the same time, he enjoyed a life rich in family and friends, music, books, travel. Author Metaxes has said that “we sometimes wrongly separate our life and our theology. . . Bonhoeffer is important for us today precisely because his life stands as a corrective to this error. Bonhoeffer understands that our lives and our theology have to be one thing.”
Disciplined. In prison, Bonhoeffer set for himself a detailed regimen of exercise and learning. He memorized Scripture. He read books. He wrote the book that would become his major work, The Cost of Discipleship. He wrote letters of encouragement, as many as he was allowed to send.
Unafraid of risk. Bonhoeffer acted on his conviction that God’s people should help those who suffer. In his country at that time, that meant the Jews. He smuggled some Jews out of the country and eventually took part in a plot to kill Hitler. He was indeed a spy — he worked out an elaborate code before his arrest and was then able to communicate with small dots under letters in the books he borrowed and returned to his family, once he was incarcerated. He well knew his actions placed his freedom and his life at risk.
And of course, what people know about him if they know nothing else: Brave in the face of death. Bonhoeffer believed he lived to further the kingdom of God on earth to the best of his ability. When he was called on to die because he had tried to help the oppressed Jews (some say Hitler personally ordered his execution), his response was, “This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.”
Couldn’t we all use an example of someone who lived — and died — truly acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with his God?