“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I love history. It is the story of real people who fought real battles and left a rich heritage of wisdom and example. But, today, history is ignored. I think it was Henry Ford who said, “History is bunk!” That attitude is pervasive for us who live in the 21st century. It doesn’t matter how men and women have lived before us. We are self-made. We insist upon looking inside and shaping our destiny by individual feelings and desires. Who needs old and dead men and women to show us how to order our lives today?
The Bible has a whole different approach to life. Hebrews commands: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Heb. 13:7-8] God has given us heroes of the faith as models for us to remember, consider and imitate. Bonhoeffer was a real man, like you and me, who faced inconceivable evil on a national scale. He was one of a few Germans who dared to stand and fight against Hitler and his perverted purposes. The fact that he stood, fought and won in one of the darkest days in history, inspires me to try and uncover the secret of his unbelievable courage and conviction. If we are to create a whole new tribe of heroes for the dark days that are coming, we need to remember men like Bonhoeffer. This leader, although dead, still speaks through his life and through his words.
We need to do more than just remember, we also need to consider their lives. If you study the great men of history, you will probably find that they had their own heroes, men or women whose lives helped shape the direction and destiny of their lives. For us, most of the great men who are worthy of being called heroes are probably dead. That is why the reading of biographies is so important. We do ourselves and our loved ones a great disservice by imitating the “celebrities” of our day. What makes a true hero is character, a life of service and sacrifice that has found something so precious that it is not only worth living for, it is well worth dying for. I want to live a life like that, don’t you? Bonhoeffer lived like that. If we can uncover the secret of this man’s courage, maybe we can have the same kind of influence upon our own world.
One of the ways we can discover the secret of his extraordinary life is to consider words he wrote. Dietrich made a distinction between peace and security. Security demands that there be no pressure, no pain, no loss, no sacrifice and no risk. He would say that in this life there is no such thing. There will always be the possibility of experiencing sickness, betrayal, disappointment and evil. No such guarantees are given in the fallen world in which we live. Risk is woven into the fabric of what it means to be alive.
Of course, it is possible to live your life in such a way that you do your best to avoid all risks. You can put an electrified fence around your house and go out in daylight only when it is absolutely necessary; eat exclusively healthy foods and avoid all chocolate malts; refuse to ride airplanes and walk everywhere you go; play chess and croquet instead of football and soccer; eat every vitamin in the English alphabet, and come home one day, slip on a bar of soap and die in the shower!
Peace, on the other hand, is not the absence of risk but the presence of God. “Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security…” God rules over all. When by faith we see the face of God in the revelation of King Jesus, everything changes. We realize that we live not in a random world but a universe designed with a glorious and eternal purpose. He rules all things comprehensively and meticulously for his glory. [Ephesians 1: 11]
God has chosen to manifest his greatness by saving us and calling us to follow Him into the world in the name and power of Jesus Christ. We are not left to ourselves to carve out a fleeting existence of personal comfort and safety. We are called by God to join Him in changing the world! Faith means we step into the unknown, knowing that even if he leads to the far side of the sea, even there his hand will guide us and his right hand will hold us fast. [Psalm 139:9-10]
Peace means obeying God’s commandment without guarantees of security or success, leaving the “destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct for selfish purposes.” The secret for Bonhoeffer was the conviction that the war he was involved in was right whether the battle ended “successfully” or not. He wrote, “And we simply cannot be constant with the fact that God’s cause is not always the successful one, that we really could be “unsuccessful”; and yet be on the right road. But this is where we find out whether we have begun in faith or in a burst of enthusiasm.”
This reminds me of J. I. Packer’s insight on the Puritans. He wrote, “They accepted conflict as their calling, seeing themselves as their Lord’s soldier-pilgrims, just as in Bunyan’s allegory, and not expecting to be able to advance a single step without opposition of one sort or another.” He then added, “The Puritans lost, more or less, every public battle that they fought….But the moral and spiritual victories that the Puritans won by keeping sweet, peaceful, patient, obedient, and hopeful under sustained and seemingly intolerable pressures and frustrations give them a high honor in the believer’s hall of fame…”
For Bonhoeffer, the die was cast when he met the Jesus revealed in Scripture. He began with granite-like faith and finished with unwavering obedience. Enthusiasm looks good at first but fizzles when the fire flares. He had counted the cost and was ready to suffer for the name of Jesus. His weapon was the power of God and his path was the way of the cross. It makes no sense to those who have not seen the glory of Jesus. But, for those of us who have seen him and experienced his peace, risk, loss and even death will not hold us back.
In 1938, Bonhoeffer presided at the confirmation of three young believers. As the days were getting darker in Germany and the cost of standing firm was becoming more painfully clear, he offered this counsel to those in attendance. “Confirmands today are like soldiers marching to war, the war of Jesus Christ against the gods of this world. It is a war that demands the commitment of one’s whole life. Is not God, our Lord, worthy of the struggle? Idolatry and cowardice confront us on all sides, but the direst foe does not confront us, he is within us. ‘Lord, help thou my unbelief.”
Our greatest battle is not with the enemies arrayed against us, but with the enemies of faith inside us. Whether we are fighting Nazi atrocities or life’s uncertainties, the most important thing a believer needs to be sure of, is this: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Heb. 13:7-8] The same Lord who was with Daniel in the lion’s den; with Paul in a Roman prison; and with Bonhoeffer on the gallows of Flossenburg; will be with us whenever we take up the fight for Christ the glory of his matchless name. Like Bonhoeffer we confess, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” Through the Spirit of God, we will experience a miracle within. The written words of Scripture will miraculously become living promises of God, welling up within our souls. Then, security will no longer be our desire. Only risk and the presence of Christ and the glory of his name will matter.