April 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the end of World War II. It also marked the anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis just days before German troops began surrendering to the Allied forces.
Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, dissident anti-Nazi, and founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world, in which he called for a “religionless Christianity”, have become widely influential and are described in his book The Cost of Discipleship. His association with those who plotted to assassinate Hitler meant that his death became inevitable. He was executed aged 39 in Flossenburg concentration camp.
The collection of his writings titled Letters and Papers from Prison includes (in some editions) poems that speak of faith from the perspective of his personal situation. At least two of these have been crafted into hymns – including “We turn to God when we are sorely pressed” (StF 640). This is a hymn that speaks with striking clarity of God’s own suffering, which stands alongside that of human individuals and communities. Get to know the hymn here.
“By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered” is another text that touches with powerful honesty upon the challenges of personal grief and suffering, while upholding a passionate trust in God’s presence and care.
Read more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (4 February, 1906 – 9 April, 1945)
- As well as the two books mentioned above, also try Prison poems of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and God is in the Manger: reflections on Advent and Christmas, an introduction to Bonhoeffers’ writings organised as daily readings for Advent
- Biography online – a summary biography with links to his books
- Wikipedia – more detailed links and bibliography; and includes a discussion of the disputed circumstances surrounding his execution
- Christianity Today – extracted chapter from the book 131 Christians everyone should know by Mark Galli
- BBC Radio 4 – in an episode from BBC Radio 4’s Great Lives series, Matthew Parris discusses the life and influence of Bonhoeffer with Bonhoeffer admirer and TV actor David Soul