Was Bonhoeffer justified in trying to assassinate Hitler? I want to look at the Bible for the answer. There are many other considerations we could take into account. We could look at the fact that his assassination attempt was 'miraculously' unsuccessful. We could consider whether an assassination of Hitler would have really stopped the horror that had taken root in Germany. We could consider hypotheticals. What if his assassination attempt hadn't been just an attempt? What if had
killed Hitler? And what if the horror had
stopped? But we won't consider these things. We could just as easily consider other hypotheticals. What if
those Christians in the book of Acts had
decided to start defending themselves with arms?
I'll tie Bonhoeffer back into all of this later, but first there are several other pertinent questions that could be answered in this post. Are we, as Christians, called to use law to help try to eradicate sin? Is war justifiable for a Christian? Is the death penalty consonant with Christ-like love? What does it mean to 'condone' sin? Is allowing sin to happen equal to condoning sin? Should we use worldly considerations in trying to live out the gospel?
Jesus flipped the Old Covenant on its head. He laid out a new way for us. The purpose of his death on the cross was to seal the deal on the New Covenant. The New Covenant entails more than us just leaning on him as our 'personal savior'. There is much more to it than that. While I agree with the importance of turning toward Jesus to cleanse us, there is much more to the New Covenant than just that. There is a whole new paradigm for how we're to live. There is a different solution for sin; there is a different way to perceive sin; there is a different way to confront sin.
The passage from 1 Corinthians indicates where the power of God is allowed to flow through how we deal with sin. The message of the cross is the New Covenant. The New Covenant is foolishness to the lost, but to those of us who believe in it and live in it, it is the power of God. In the book of John, when Jesus refused to promote the letter of Old Covenant law, he was releasing the power of God in a way that seemed foolish to those who were lost and perishing. In fact, from the outside, the story might seem to indicate that he was condoning adultery. But what he was saying is that punishment is no longer the way to deal with sin. The Old Covenant law did not release the power of God to liberate people from sin; the New Covenant did and still does.
Considering that, it is crucial that we cease our reliance on the Old Covenant in how we deal with sin, however 'foolish' it may seem to do so. The power of God isn't released according to our logic; his power is released according to his own will. Through Jesus, his will for the New Covenant was shown. In the Church in America, we seem to think it is our duty as Christians to resist evil people. Jesus told us directly not
to resist them. Releasing the power of God through New Covenant means does a couple of things. Firstly, it liberates the captives, it frees the slaves, it breaks the power of sin. Secondly, it heaps coals of fire upon such evil people, it allows God to take vengeance (instead of us), it plants seeds for the liberating power of God to be released in such evil people.
As Christians, we have the liberating power of God within us. Why are we settling for worldly considerations, standards, and methods? Why are we settling for ineffective Old Covenant law which doesn't release the power of God? Perhaps it is foolish to confront the evil of the world by not resisting those who practice that evil, but that is the New Covenant way.Are we, as Christians, called to use law to help try to eradicate sin?
I think the answer would be a clear, 'no.' Jesus refuted that concept in how he dealt with the option of using the law against the adulteress. He showed a new way to deal with sin. The power of God doesn't flow through the law. When I wrote my first book, the purpose was to write my way to freedom. I wanted to purge what was inside. I wanted to let it all out in the hopes that I would be free. I expected to be free when it was over, but freedom wasn't there on the other side of the book. The writing of the book did accomplish something meaningful though. It opened my eyes to the fact that, using my own power, I fell flat on my face. As an anarchist, I believed that I possessed the power to move mountains, that we
possess the power to move mountains. The book was a step of faith into that theory. But it failed. It did, however, direct me onto a new path, a path on which I knew I had no power. I had failed. The theory that we can move mountains, that we can be our own saviors, was called into question. Eventually, through some other attempts at using my own power, I became broken and God was able to get a hold of me. Likewise, the only purpose of the law is to show us our sin. It doesn't serve any grand purpose in stopping sin. It is our schoolmaster to prepare us for us for the New Covenant. That doesn't mean that we need to create laws against bearing false witness or adultery or idolatry to force the lost to a point at which they realize they need a savior. Such is overkill. The laws have already been written. They are the Old Covenant. They are already there. A lot of people like to say about gun control, "Criminals don't follow laws." There is truth in that statement. Creating laws against bearing false witness isn't going to make our society any more truthful.
Creating laws against adultery isn't going to make our society more faithful. We're deceiving ourselves when we tell ourselves that we're waging some kind of effective war against sin by creating laws against sin. The laws we create equal the use of our own power. Only God's power can reduce sin in our society.
There is a deeper point to be made here, too, and that is the heart of God. What is heart of God regarding sin? He certainly doesn't want sin. But there is an interesting concept ushered in with the New Covenant. Would God rather have his people follow the letter of the law outwardly, while their hearts are full of nastiness or have them slip now and then, while their hearts maintain a desire to please him? The concept that is ushered in with full force with the New Covenant is the heart concept. God wants pure hearts. The law can do nothing
to touch hearts. As Christians, our calling is to help in the task of directing the hearts of the lost back to God. In all of our futile promotions of law to quench sin, we're doing nothing to help draw the hearts of the lost back to God.
This raises the question, What does it mean to 'condone' sin?
If we don't promote laws to stop sin, are we promoting sin? Do we condone sin by simply allowing it to happen? If we allow homosexuals to marry, are we condoning what they do in their bedrooms? Does God condone sin because he allows it to happen? Is the fact that God gave us free will evidence that he condones sin? What did Jesus do? Despite the fact that the Covenant still in place at that time demanded that the adulteress be put to death, he chose to let her walk. By doing this, he couldn't have been promoting sin. Instead, he chose to act in love. He chose to allow the power of God to be released. He chose to bring in a new way, a way that would heal the brokenhearted, deliver the captives, and liberate the oppressed.
On April 6, 2010, my sister wrote me a letter. She was worried about me. It was during a six year period that I had turned my back on God. I didn't want God. I wanted nothing to do with him. But this letter started a chain reaction. This is a short excerpt:
. . . you've known his goodness, his love, and his forgiveness. The lies of the enemy attached to you and have held you captive in a sense of false contentment. Your mockery of the very one who gave everything for you grieves me. Not because I am offended. I am not offended. I am burdened for your soul. . . Personally, the Lord has taught me what love is. How to forgive. And the secret of true joy and peace. He is the only thing that has brought me through many tough times. He is so real. When you really seek him, you will find him. When you seek him with all your heart. I know the Church has been a great turnoff for you. I know that it's grieving the Lord's heart how the Church is living. A bunch of hypocrites. But, I've found something greater than the building. And none of us are perfect. We all fall greatly short, which is why we need a Savior. In the depths of a true relationship with Jesus, and only then, can the true character of Christ BEGIN to be developed in an individual. I hope you don't perceive me as judging you, because I am not. I am simply a forgiven sinner with a heart to please my Lord and Savior. I make many mistakes each day and for them I grieve and ask the Lord to help me be a better light for His glory. That is what He asks us to do.
I've held on to that letter for over two years, even though my immediate response began with, "I appreciate your caring about my eternity. I truly do. Unfortunately (for you, anyway . . . !), I don't give a hoot about it." She has told me since that she felt very confused after she received my response. She felt like God was leading her to write that letter word by word. She thought for sure that it would be a success. After all, if God was leading her to write it, it had
to be successful. She viewed it as a flop because she couldn't see the results immediately. And I certainly didn't see the results immediately. But she never told me to stop mocking Jesus--even after the letter. She didn't deal with me according to the logic that letting me mock Jesus in her presence would be condoning it. She respectfully gave her opinion in response, but she never told me to stop. She never used the 'law' approach. Such a civil and honest relationship allowed the power of God to released into me. I didn't realize it was working on me, but within a couple of months, I was attending a weekly bible study at the home of one of her friends. I felt comfortable. No one judged me. They were interested in who I was. They even shrugged off sinful aspects of my life. They didn't use the law approach. Eventually, the group broke up, but the power of God had been released into me in a greater measure. It was in the midst of this that I began writing my first book. Ten months after the book was released, God called me back. It took awhile and those praying for and putting up with me and just letting God work through his own means were probably restless.
At one point during this time, I was caught taking some of my mom's pills. I've always had issues with addiction. When they found I was stealing her pills, they didn't call the police and press charges--though they would have had every right to press charges to teach me a lesson. I'm sure they'd learned from the past that I don't learn well from such lessons. They did tell me that they were going to force me to go to church with them every Sunday. I guess they wanted me to get some religion--and, by religion, I mean the wrong kind. I told them that I would go if that was what they demanded, but I also told them that they shouldn't expect me to be interested in it at all if they forced me. I was just speaking the truth. Eventually, they relented and never forced me to go. Since then, my dad has expressed that he's glad he changed his mind. He believes it could have stunted what God was doing in me leading up to his calling me back to him.
When I was at work and I felt like my whole world was falling apart and I didn't realize that God was breaking me, that I was in the process of breaking, I asked the manager to pray for me. She did pray for me. She didn't judge me. In fact, she told me that she saw my heart, that it looked like a warzone. She told me that she saw the scars that had become a hardened shell on the outside of my heart. She told me that God thought I was beautiful, and that he wants to break the power of the enemy who had been telling me I was worthless. I wanted her to pray for God to curse the ones who I thought were causing my whole to fall apart, but she read my mail and she prayed for my healing. She didn't judge me for judging others. She didn't even tell me I was wrong. She redirected the focus. And I left the room a bit angry that she hadn't prayed according to my
will. It was just a few days later that God called me back as I was spending the day at work, by myself, dumping waterlogged boards onto a brush pile.
We all know how to deal with individuals. We all know how to reach people on a personal level. We all know how sensitive we have to be to the voice of the Holy Spirit when we're dealing with individuals. Why doesn't the public rhetoric of the Church match up with what we know is true? Why is our public rhetoric so abundant with such nonsense as, 'Liberals are idiots!' and 'Homosexuals are destroying America!' and 'We need politicians and their laws to make our nation righteous again!'? The list of nonsense could go on and on. Why? Why do we do this?
Allowing sin is not condoning sin. If we don't try to force people to stop sinning, that doesn't mean we're condoning sin. It's a heart issue. We have to allow ourselves to be vessels for the Holy Spirit to work through. We have to facilitate the process of the law of the Spirit being written upon hearts. It's about changing hearts, not actions. If we go after actions, hearts won't change. If we go after hearts, actions will change.
And we could even take it a step further. Smith Wigglesworth told a story in one of his sermons about a discussion he had a with a man who had just accepted Jesus. His life hadn't been transformed. He made a remark to Smith that since he was saved now he'd have to give up smoking. Smith told him that he didn't have to give up smoking. Then the newly saved guy said that he imagined he'd probably have to quit drinking and cheating on his wife or whatever the vices he listed happened to be. Smith said that he didn't have to do any of these things. The only responsibility he had was to follow Jesus at the Holy Spirit's leading. There was no condemnation. No words of law were thrown at him. Smith acted in much the same way Jesus acted when dealing with the adulteress. He cast out condemnation first and then the man was free to be free. The man came to the next night's meeting free indeed! Was Smith condoning sin by telling the man he didn't have to stop sinning?
Many of us today would think it counterproductive to tell someone what Smith told that man. But Smith understood something that a stronghold of religion has held us from. He understood that there is nothing in our own power that can liberate people from sin. Sin is a heart issue, not an action issue. Only God can touch hearts to eradicate sin from them. Actions will follow--sometimes immediately, sometimes through process.
The definition of 'condone' is to overlook or to forgive. That definition speaks volumes regarding the question of, What does it mean to 'condone' sin?
In the case of Smith speaking to the man, the man obviously understood that he had sin in his life. The man, by his own words, acknowledged that he knew that God didn't want those things to be a part of his life. Smith didn't have to tell him anything else. The man already knew. The rest of the work could only be accomplished through the Holy Spirit. If a Christian has sin in his life that he refuses to admit is sin, then pointing out that sin exists in him is crucial. I grant that. But beating dead horses accomplishes nothing if there is an acknowledgement from the sinning party that there is such sin in his life.
Back when I was turned away from God and my sister told me that God was grieving over me, I knew what God's thoughts were of who I was and what I was doing. I knew there was sin in my life, but I was denying God. So knowledge of his thoughts were irrelevant to me at the time. I didn't need to be told I was wrong. I already knew I was wrong according to the judgment of God. What I needed were people to allow the power of God to be released through them into me. Thank You Jesus for putting people in my path to do just that!
So I think that it would be safe to say our rhetoric of 'not condemning but not condoning the sinner' is misplaced. But if we want to look at the definition of 'condone' as 'to give to tacit approval' then we can still say that allowing sin to happen is not equal to condoning it. And a refusal to give tacit approval to sin when the sinner already knows he's sinning and shouldn't be doing it equals de facto condemnation.
And now back to Bonhoeffer and the issue of war. Was it justifiable for Bonhoeffer to try to assassinate Hitler? Is it justifiable to go to war to stop dictators? Is war justifiable for a Christian?
When it comes to this type of debate, Christians oftentimes tend to get confused and really blur the line between the world and the Church. The world will always fight wars--even just wars. It is not a requirement that Christians join the frontlines to kill those we should be reaching out to. Just wars to end the likes of Hitler's megalomania will not be put to an end just because Christians refuse to kill their supposed enemies. Nowhere in the New Testament are we informed that it is our Christian duty to kill for any cause. We are told to be the light to quench the darkness of such killing. By participating, we're doing nothing to quench that darkness. In fact, we're fighting on the side of darkness by participating. I think it is safe to say that war, for the Christian, is not justifiable. We are called to fight differently. It may seem foolish to fight differently. It may seem like we're losing by fighting differently. But perhaps it's not for us to see the fruits of our Christian fight. We're so concerned about seeing fruits now. Sometimes we're just planting seeds when we really want to be sowing. We think we know the pure will of God in so many circumstances when we're really just following the standards set by atheistic ethical standards.
I believe Bonhoeffer was doing what he thought was right. But in being killed for attempted murder, he wasn't a martyr, as Paul's statement at the top suggests. He was simply facing the consequence of letting the enemy deceive him. It is unfortunate and I don't condemn him for what he did. He was a wonderful man by all accounts and he had much to offer and teach us. He also had much to offer and teach us in where he went wrong.
We need to question the boxes we've trapped ourselves in. We need to be less afraid to question traditional ideology. Questioning ideology does not equal questioning God. Our use of the death penalty and Christian support of it goes back to 'an eye for an eye'. The Old Covenant. We're not in the Old Covenant anymore. Jesus gave us a New Covenant and it's been spelled out quite clearly. Let's keep that in mind and keep our interpretation of our lives and the Church and the world around us freshly grounded in the Word.