The Dead Speak: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a 20th century martyr and theologian who was executed for his involvement with undercover members of the Abwher (German Military Intelligence) and their plans to assassinate Hitler. This involvement expressed a shift in Bonhoeffer’ convictions, as initially he was a pacifist. Though there has been much debate regarding the nature of Bonhoeffer’ change of conviction, it is clear he felt that radical action was needed in response to the atrocities Hitler committed in his quest for European domination. In defending the position that he eventually came to, Bonhoeffer once said, “If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can’t simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.” In the end, Bonhoeffer lived a life consistent with his criticism of cheap grace, for he gave up everything, including his life, to follow the only one who is worth losing it all for.


Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are. But in the love of Christ we know all about every conceivable sin and guilt; for we know how Jesus suffered, and how all men have been forgiven at the foot of the cross. Christian love sees the fellow-man under the cross and therefore sees with charity. If when we judged others, our real motive was to destroy evil, we should look for evil where it is certain to be found, and that is in our own hearts. But if we are on the look-out for evil in others, our real motive is obviously to justify ourselves, for we are seeking to escape punishment for our own sins by passing judgment on others, and are assuming by implication that the Word of God applies to ourself in one way, and to others in another. All this is highly dangerous and misleading. We are trying to claim for ourselves a special privilege which we deny to others. But Christ’s disciples have no rights of their own or standards of right and wrong which they could enforce with other people; they have received nothing but Christ’s fellowship. Therefore the disciple is not to sit in judgment over his fellow-man because he would wrongly usurp the jurisdiction.

2 Responses to “The Dead Speak: Dietrich Bonhoeffer”

  1. ROG  

    The monthly Bible study I used to attend, before Lydia, often talked about Bonhoeffer. Often, it was in the context of: At what point do you decide that the you need to stop the driver.

    Do you hope that the driver will run out of gas? Do you put yourself in front of the car, or fear that would be insufficient and that the sacrifice would be in vain? Do you get a rocket launcher and blow up the car? And what are the implications of your action, or inaction?

  2. Anthony Velez  

    After I wrote the introduction to this piece by Bonhoeffer I noticed a tension between what he said and what he did. In this quote Bonhoeffer states that Christ’s disciples don’t have ground for judging others, and that they should view others through the grace God manifested on the cross. I can’t help but think that Bonhoeffer came to a place where he made a judgement, he judged that Hitler was worthy of death. I certainly don’t blame him for this, but I wonder if this meant that he had to rethink his position on judgement. This is challenging for me because I see the truth of what he said in the quote, and yet I certainly don’t blame him for the course of action he took.