Dietrich Bonhoeffer, like Martin Niemoller, was a German theologian and Lutheran pastor who bravely opposed Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer was not only imprisoned for his staunch opposition to Germany’s maniacal Fuhrer, as was Niemoller, but he was martyred as well. He was hanged on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before his concentration camp was liberated by American soldiers. Like Niemoller, Bonhoeffer is also best remembered today for something he penned. In his case, however, it’s not a verse, but a volume, his book: The Cost of Discipleship.
To Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the call to discipleship was a call to suffer. In addition to this, Bonhoeffer saw suffering as the cost of discipleship as well. In 1945, he wrote from Berlin’s Tegel Prison, “We are summoned to share in God's suffering at the hands of a godless world.” Bonhoeffer believed that the mandatory cross to be taken up by all true disciples is a readiness to “suffer with Christ.” Once again, taking his probing pen in hand, Bonhoeffer penned the following poignant words in The Cost of Discipleship.
“If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering.”
Like Martin Niemoller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught that suffering was essential for the purification of a triumphant church! “We will never be a victorious church,” Bonhoeffer argued, “until we see suffering as a divine gift.” According to Bonhoeffer, pain is a holy angel to the saint that leads him or her to a holier angel still.
“Pain is a holy angel who shows us treasures that would otherwise remain forever hidden; through him men and women have become greater than through all the joys of the world. It must be so and I tell myself this in my present situation over and over again. The pain of suffering and of longing, which can often be felt even physically, must be there, and we cannot and need not talk it away. But it needs to be overcome every time, and thus there is an even holier angel than the one of pain; that is, the one of joy in God.”
How foreign to the ears of present-day “pew potatoes” perched on contemporary church pews are these troubling truths taught by this courageous cross bearer and brave martyr of Christ. According to today’s preachers of the prosperity gospel and proponents of an eschatological escape hatch—secret rapture—suffering is no sweat to the saints, since God has assured us that He will shield us from it and secretly snatch us out of it. However, to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, suffering is the tested path the church must trod to triumphant! It is only by treading it that we “stand in communion with the Crucified,” who will by His power enable us to prevail over our sufferings, so that we can be prepared for both His Coming and the world to come! Are you willing and ready to suffer; or are you, like most Christians today, clinging to the popular chimera that you’ll never be cast into this crucible?