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Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out that the presence of Jesus will defeat the power of desire and Satan when we are tempted. His words are from Creation and Fall; Temptation:

Now I know that the death of the flesh is manifested in the temptation of the flesh. The flesh dies because it kindles lust and desire. In the temptation of the flesh I share in the death of Jesus in the flesh. So the temptation of the flesh which draws me into the death of the flesh, drives me into the death of Christ, who died in the flesh but who is raised in the spirit.

The next statement then is the summary…

Only the death of Christ rescues me from the temptation of the flesh (133).

Praise the Lord that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.

According to German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the presence of Jesus will defeat the power of desire and Satan when we are tempted. The following quote is from Creation and Fall; Temptation:

There is only one stronger reality to be set against the exclusive reality of desire and Satan: the image and presence of the Crucified. Against this power the power of desire breaks up into nothingness; for here it is conquered, Here the flesh has received its right and its reward, namely death.

Here I realize that the lust of the flesh is nothing else than the anquish of the flesh in the face of death. Because Christ is the death of the flesh, and because this Christ is within me, the dying flesh rears itself up against Christ…(132-133).

More in the next post

Here is my monthly article for the Harvey Oaks Baptist Church newsletter…

As we continue our look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we will zero in on how he was able to serve the Lord Jesus in severe trials. Bonhoeffer worked hard to provide the German church with a backbone, even though setbacks plagued him until his death. For example on August 5, 1936, he was no longer allowed to teach at Berlin University.[1] In September of 1937, the Seminary at Finkenwalde was closed by the Gestapo.[2]

On January 11, 1938, Bonhoeffer was informed that he could no longer work in Berlin.[3] On September 9, 1940, he was prohibited to speak publicly and was ordered to regularly check in with the police.[4] On April 5, 1943 he was arrested and imprisoned.[5] In July of that year, Bonhoeffer went through intense interrogation.[6] On February 2, 1945, he was sentenced to death and on April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenberg.[7]

Bonhoeffer also faced opposition from fellow Christians who opted for a safer route. Bonhoeffer was among the first to recognize the anti-Semitism within the government. So he urged his fellow pastors to stand up and protect the Jewish people. As stated above, Bonhoeffer reasoned from scripture that Christ-followers are obligated to intervene for the helpless in society.

But this intervention was not to just protest Nazi polices; nor was it just to provide safe passage of Jews out of Germany. Again, Bonhoeffer suggested that the spokes of the Nazi wheel are to be broken by those who profess Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer’s viewpoint was seen as too extreme by many of his peers. He “became an enigma to many of his colleagues in the church who were attempting by political quietism, indifference, and religious compromise to survive a difficult situation.” [8]

Yet, this passivity and inaction of the church would allow for the “the insidious Nazi takeover of the churches.”[9] In 1933, Bonhoeffer pleaded with the church to remain true to biblical values. Nevertheless, in July of the same year, the Evangelical Church in Germany (composed of Lutheran and Reformed churches) elected as Reich bishop, Ludwig Muller. He was a sympathizer of Nazi polices and was an “ecclesiastical counterpart to the political leadership of Adolf Hitler.”[10] Thus, within the church, Hitler had an ally who would endorse his racial policies.

The fact that Muller was elected by church delegates indicated Hitler had already cast his spell. The door was now open for national policies to become church polices. For example, the “Law for the Reconstruction of the Professional Civil Service” was passed by the German Reichstag on April 7, 1933. It contained the Aryan Clause[11] which banned Jews from serving in the government. On September 4, 1933, the Evangelical Church adopted the Aryan Clause. From that point on, pastors of Jewish descent were denied rights at ordained ministers.[12]

From Bonhoeffer’s point of view, the church had fallen into heresy. The call of Jesus for radical discipleship had been replaced by racial purity. The church had opted for “cheap grace” by skirting her responsibility to stand up for the oppressed in society.

How radical are we in our discipleship? In other words, is our love and devotion to Jesus more important that protecting our self-interests as individuals and as a church?

[1] Kelly and Nelson, eds., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Testament to Freedom, 533.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 534.

[5] Ibid., 535.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid. 127.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 543.

[12] Kelly and Nelson, The Cost of Moral Leadership: The Spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 17.

When the fires of temptation have a hold of us, is there any way out? Yes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s describes the process in Creation and Fall; Temptation:

It is here that everything within me rises up against the Word of God. Powers of the body, the mind and the will, which were held in obedience under the discipline of the Word, of which I believed that I was the master, make it clear to me that I am no means master of them. “All my powers forsake me,” laments the psalmist. They have all gone over to the adversary. The adversary deploys my powers against me. In this situation I can no longer act as a hero; I am a defenseless, powerless man. God himself has forsaken me.

Who can conquer, who can gain the victory?

None other than the Crucified, Jesus Christ himself, for whose sake all this happens to me; for he is by myself and in me, and therefore temptation besets me as it beset him (132).

Praise the Lord!

German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s describes Satan’s role in temptation in the work Creation and Fall; Temptation:

Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God. And now his false hood is added to this proof of strength. The lust thus aroused envelops the mind and will of man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us.

The questions present themselves: “Is what the flesh desires really sin in this case?” “Is it really not permitted to me, yes–expected of me, now, here, in my particular situation, to appease desire?” The tempter puts me in a privileged position as he tried to put the hungry Son of God in a privileged position. I boast of my privilege against God (132).

Next Bonhoeffer explains how the followers of Jesus can either fall into that sin or walk away victorious.

German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers one the best descriptions of temptation in the work Creation and Fall; Temptation. Let’s continue…

At this moment (of temptation) God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil… (132).

We have all been there. If we deny that fact, we are most certainly deceived.

Next we will look further at Satan’s role in temptation

German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers one the best descriptions of temptation. It is found in Creation and Fall; Temptation. We will be looking at this description today and in coming posts…

We speak first of temptation by desire and then of temptation by suffering.

In our members there is a slumbering inclination towards desire which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power desire seizes mastery over the flesh. All at once a secret, smoldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames. It makes no difference whether it is sexual desire, or ambition, or vanity, or desire for revenge, or love of fame and power, or greed for money, or finally, that strange desire for the beauty of the world, of nature (131-132).


From Gesammelte Schriften, Band IV, pp. 413-422, “Predigt über einen Rachepsalm,” July 11, 1937.


1.Do you indeed speak righteousness, Oyou judges, do you judge the children of men fairly?

2.No, at heart you work iniquity; you deal out the violence of your hands in the land,

3.The godless are perverse from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

4.Their poison is like a serpent’s venom, like a deaf adder that stops its ear,

5.So that it does not hear the voice of charmers charming ever so skillfully.

6.O God, break the teeth in their mouths; shatter the fangs of the young lions, OGod!

7.Let them melt away like water that runs continuously. As he aims his arrows, let those be as split apart.

8.Let them be like the snail which dissolves into slime, like an untimely birth that never sees the sun.

9.Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away.

10.The righteous will ignore when he sees such vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked,

11.Men will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; there is truly a God who judges on earth.”

467 – A Bonhoeffer Sermon

Is this frightful Psalm of vengeance our prayer? Are we actually allowed to pray in such a manner? At first the answer to this question is totally clear, “No, we are certainly not permitted to pray like that. Indeed, we have to shoulder much of the blame for the hostility we encounter and which gets us into trouble. We have to confess that it is God’s righteous punishment which strikes and humbles us sinful men.” Even in these times of the church’s distress we are compelled to recognize that God himself in his anger has raised his hand against us to afflict us with our own sin, all our spiritual indolence, our open or inward disobedience, the profound lack of discipline in our everyday lives under his word. Or would we want to deny that each personal sin, even the most hidden, must bring down God’s wrath, call down God’s revenge on our enemies without this revenge hitting us even harder? No, we are not able to pray this Psalm. Not because we would be too good for it (what a superficial thought, what inconceivable arrogance!), but because we are too sinful, too evil for it.

Only he who is totally without sin can pray like that. This Psalm of vengeance is the prayer of the innocent. “For the chief musician; to the tune, Do not Destroy, by David, a refuge Psalm.” It is David who prays this Psalm. David himself is not innocent. But it pleased God to prepare for himself in David the one who will be called the Son of David, Jesus Christ. The reason David must not lose his life is because the Christ is to come from him. David could never have prayed for himself against his enemies in order to preserve his own life. We know that David humbly endured all personal abuse. But Christ, and therefore the church of God, is in David. Thus his enemies are the enemies of Jesus Christ and his holy church. For that reason Christ himself is praying this Psalm in David-and with Christ the universal holy church. No, we sinners are not praying this song of vengeance; innocence itself is praying it. The innocence of Christ steps before the world and accuses it. We do not accuse it, Christ does.

When Christ takes action against sin, aren’t we ourselves right in the midst of the accused as well?

For the rest of the Sermon…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer


His Life

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s foreparents were people of much courage and much ability. In 1933, when his paternal grandmother was 91 years old, she walked defiantly through the cordon which nasty stormtroopers had thrown up around Jewish shops as part of the anti-Jewish boycott. His maternal grandmother was a gifted pianist; in fact, she had been a pupil of the incomparable Franz Liszt. Bonhoeffer’s mother was the daughter of a world-renowned historian. His father, a neurologist, was a professor in the University of Berlin, and chief of Neurology and Psychiatry at Berlin’s major hospital.

Bonhoeffer himself was born on 4th February, 1906, in Breslau, then part of Germany, now part of Poland. He and his twin sister, Sabine, were the last of seven children. By age 10 his own musical talent appeared (he was now playing Mozart piano sonatas) as well as his proclivity to do the unusual. (For instance, a special treat on his birthday was an egg beaten with sugar. It tasted so good that the ten year old gathered up his pocket money and bought himself a hen!)

The family was religiously indifferent, the father being an agnostic. Bonhoeffer therefore startled the family when he announced, at age 14, that he was going to be a pastor and a theologian. The response was incomprehension. His older brother, Karl-Friedrich (who later distinguished himself as a physicist) tried to deflect him from this course, arguing that the church was weak, silly, irrelevant, unworthy of any young man’s lifelong commitment. “If the church really is what you say it is”, replied the youngster, “then I shall have to reform it.” Soon he began his university studies in theology in Tuebingen and completed then in Berlin. His doctoral dissertation exposed his brilliance on a wider front and introduced him to internationally-known scholars.

Following ordination Bonhoeffer moved to Barcelona, Spain, where he was the assistant minister to the German-speaking Lutheran congregation there. While he had been born to the aristocracy and therefore knew a social privilege denied most German people (especially the 25% who lived on the edge of starvation) Bonhoeffer yet displayed a remarkable ability to relate genuinely to all sorts and classes and types of people.

In 1930 he went to the United States as a guest of Union Theological Seminary, NYC. There he was dismayed at seeing how frivolous American seminarians were concerning the study of theology. His dismay peaked the day a most moving passage from Luther’s writing on the subject of sin and forgiveness was greeted with derisive laughter. Bonhoeffer retorted, “You students at this liberal seminary sneer at the fundamentalists in America, when all the while the fundamentalists know far more of the truth and grace, mercy and judgement of God than do you.” Quickly he recognized the plight of black people in the US, worked among impoverished blacks in the city, and worshipped regularly at a Baptist church in Harlem. In 1931 he returned to Berlin and resumed his university teaching.

While he was certainly a gifted scholar and professor, Bonhoeffer was always a pastor at heart. Not surprisingly, then, at the same time that he lectured he also instructed a confirmation class of 50 rowdy boys in one of the worst slums of Berlin. His first day with the boys was remarkable. As he walked up the stairs to the second floor room the boys at the top of the stair-well pelted him with garbage and began chanting repeatedly the first syllable of his name, “Bon, Bon, Bon…” He let them continue until they wearied of it. Then he quietly began telling the boys of what he had known in Harlem; how there existed another group of people whose material prospects were as bleak as theirs; how it was that Jesus Christ neither disdained nor abandoned anyone; that no human being, however bleak his circumstances, is ever God-forsaken. Bonhoeffer moved into the boys’ neighbourhood and lived among them until the instruction was over. Many of the youngsters remained his friends for life.

In 1933 Bonhoeffer took a leave of absence from the university and moved to London, England, where he pastored two German-speaking congregations. By now he was immersed in the ecumenical movement, assisted, of course, by his facility in French, Spanish and English (he spoke English flawlessly). The life-and-death struggle for the church in Germany was underway. Did the church live from the gospel only, or could the church lend itself to the state in order to reinforce the ideology of the state? Bonhoeffer argued that the latter would render the church no church at all. An older professor of theology, who conformed to nazi ideology in order to keep his job, commented, “It is a great pity that our best hope in the faculty is being wasted on the church struggle.” As the struggle intensified it was noticed that Bonhoeffer’s sermons became more comforting, more confident of God’s victory, and more defiant. The struggle was between the national church (which supported Hitler) and the confessing church, called such because it confessed that there could be only one Fuehrer or leader for Christians, and it wasn’t Hitler. Lutheran bishops remained silent in the hope of preserving institutional unity. Most ministers refused to support the confessing church, whispering that there was no need to play at being confessing heroes. In the face of such ministerial cowardice Bonhoeffer warned his colleagues that there was no chance of converting Hitler; what they had to ensure was that they were converted themselves. An Anglican bishop who knew him well in England was later to write of him, “He was crystal clear in his convictions; and young as he was, and humble-minded as he was, he saw the truth and spoke it with complete absence of fear.” Bonhoeffer himself wrote to a friend at this time, “Christ is looking down at us and asking whether there is anyone who still confesses him.”

Bonhoeffer was much taken with Gandhi’s non-violent resistance, and planned to go to India to learn more of Gandhi’s pacifism. Before he could get to India, however, he was urged to return to Germany in order to lead an underground seminary at Finkenwald. (This seminary aimed at supplying pastors for the confessing church, since not one of the university faculties of theology sided with the confessing church.) In no time Nazi authorities withdrew his Berlin professorship. Bonhoeffer calmly replied, “I have long ceased to believe in the universities.”

While instructing his students at Finkenwald he became engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer. He was 35 years old, she, 18. (Maria von Wedemeyer married after the war and lives in Germany today.) During the long days of Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment the two were to correspond as often as authorities and censors permitted them. She visited him once a week. He always wanted her to let him know when she was coming. If she surprised him, said Bonhoeffer, he was deprived of the joy of anticipating her visit.

At this time North American and British church leaders were impatient with any discussion of theology, preferring to concentrate on the church’s politics. Bonhoeffer irked them by insisting that they were preoccupied with symptoms only. While the political compromises were dreadful indeed, the root problem, the disease, was theological: the church was infested with heresy. For this reason Bonhoeffer tirelessly addressed the issue of heresy, maintaining that the church can live only by its confession of Jesus Christ as the one Word of God which it must hear and heed and proclaim.

Two American professors coaxed him into returning to the US and to a teaching position in NYC. As soon as the boat docked Bonhoeffer knew he had made a mistake. He knew that Germany would shortly be at war, knew that the devastation of his native land would be indescribable. He was convinced he would have no credibility in assisting with its recovery and restoration unless he himself endured the devastation first-hand. He was in the US only four weeks.

By this time he was forbidden to speak anywhere in the Reich. Visser’t Hooft, the General Secretary of The World Council of Churches, asked him, “What do you pray for in these days?” “If you want to know the truth”, replied Bonhoeffer, “I pray for the defeat of my nation.”

While he had been a pacifist only a few years earlier, Bonhoeffer’s pacifist convictions were receding. He saw that untold suffering among the German people (especially civilians), as well as among the allies, would swell unless Hitler were removed. He quietly met with several high-ranking officers of German military intelligence who were secretly opposed to Hitler. Together they conspired to assassinate Hitler. Unbeknown to them, the intelligence arm of the secret police was spying on the intelligence arm of the army. The conspiracy was discovered. Bonhoeffer was arrested and assigned to a prison in Berlin. It was April, 1943. He was to be in prison for two years. He was allowed to read, and naturally enough spent most of his time perusing literature, science, philosophy, theology, and history. Much of his reading had to do with the 19th century cultural heritage of Germany. He also managed to reread the Bible 2.5 times

In July, 1944, the hidden bomb which was meant for Hitler did explode, but exploded while he was out of the room. The incriminating files which the secret police turned up pointed to Bonhoeffer directly, as well as others like General Oster and Admiral Canaris. Underground plans were being made to help Bonhoeffer escape when it was learned that his brother Klaus, a lawyer, had been arrested. Bonhoeffer declined to escape lest his family be punished. (He was never to know that Klaus was to be executed in any case, along with a brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi.) It was at this time particularly that Bonhoeffer ministered to his fellow-prisoners awaiting execution, among whom was Payne Best, an office in the British Army. His tribute to Bonhoeffer deserves to be heard.

“Bonhoeffer was different, just quite calm and normal, seemingly
perfectly at his ease… his soul really shone in the dark desperation
of our prison. He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom God was
real and ever close to him.”

Bonhoeffer was removed from prison and taken to Flossenburg, an extermination camp in the Bavarian forest. On the 9th of April, three weeks before American forces liberated Flossenburg, he was executed.

To Read the Rest

Stephen Plant’s 2004 book Bonhoeffer has this great picture on Bonhoeffer strumming is six-string!

September 2008


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