Bonhoeffer on Death

by Carlton Weathers

As most of you know, I have been immersed in studying the resurrection. I have also been reading the newest biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Now that I am finished with the book I will encourage you to read it. (Warning: It can be addicting, and it will take time because it is 542 pages) Bonhoeffer is a man that is surrounded by controversy. He was a man of deep conviction, and his convictions always led to action. I will not debate the choice of this man to join the assassination plot against Hitler. I struggle with those who would judge Bonhoeffer while sitting in absolute freedom and safety. That is not the point of this post so I will leave it at that. I find his writing and thinking to be a great encouragement to greater love and service of the Lord Jesus Christ.

At the end of the biography Metaxas writes about Bonhoeffer’s view of death. This is where the study of resurrection and Bonhoeffer cross paths. Here is the quote that struck me. It is from a sermon preached by Bonhoeffer while he was pastoring a church in London. He says,

No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward to being released from bodily existence.

Whether we are young or old makes no difference. what are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up – that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? … Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.
How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world?
Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.