Hearing the Wind and Turning Back to God

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“But I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

– (Luke [22:32])


In the early thirties of the last century, Germany was mired in fourteen years of hyperinflation, political turmoil, and poverty, as a result of the sanctions imposed on them after World War I. What emerged was a Nazi regime, led by Adolf Hitler, that slowly gained control over their society. Slowly, to gain the benefit of not having to live a desperate life, the German people gave in to the terribly pointed moral compass of Hitler.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young Lutheran theologian, stood up against this acceptance of the Nazis. He preached against Hitler in the great Lutheran church in Berlin, the centerpiece of the Lutheran worldwide church. He implored the people of Germany not to gain material safety by giving in to Hitler. He warned people from the most important pulpit of the Lutheran church that nothing would be left standing in the end, even the very church that they were sitting in would be destroyed. In fact, the mighty cathedral of the Lutheran church that Bonhoeffer was delivering this sermon in was destroyed by allied bombs during World War II.

Eventually, the Nazis seized control of the institution of the Lutheran Church and were able to force the Catholic Church to look away. In response, Bonhoeffer helped start a new church, called the Confessing Church. He organized a clandestine seminary to train young German pastors. However, even this new church was compromised. Understanding the threat this church posed, the Nazi regime closed the seminary and continued to tighten its grip on every aspect of German spiritual life. Fearing for Bonhoeffer’s safety, his friends encouraged him to go to New York City, where he would be safe. He went.

While in New York, however, he remained unsettled. Despite his wide acceptance and support by leading American theologians, Bonhoeffer could not shake the thought that he needed to turn back. Many advised him not to go. He would be safe in America, they said; in Germany he would be anything but safe.

Finally, in a desire to rid himself of the guilt he felt for not helping his German brothers, he answered the spiritual winds and returned to Germany in 1939. He had known he was not where God wanted him. He left on the last boat out of New York to Germany, prior to the start of World War II. Upon his return to his home country he continued to speak out against Hitler. He was part of one of the many attempts to overthrow the Nazi regime.

Arrested, he was thrown into prison, but he continued his ministry there, with both the other prisoners and the guards. In fact, many of the guards went to Bonhoeffer for spiritual help. Two weeks before the end of the war and the elimination of Nazi rule, he was executed. His executioner described his death as one of peace. A peace the executioner had not witnessed before. Bonhoeffer had turned back.

During the Last Supper, and before his fateful walk to the cross, Jesus said to Peter, But I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke [22:32]) Jesus knew that Peter would turn away. He was also sure Peter would turn back. He knew a crisis in Peter’s faith would occur. Jesus knows that it will occur in each of us as well. Giving up our safety for a noble cause is a hard decision, but it is made easier when we follow the ways of Christ. We want to be safe but are left with a nagging feeling that we have let someone down. Our character fights with us. We are unsettled until we hear the spiritual winds and turn back to complete our task. When we do, we strengthen ourselves and others.

“We all will have to turn back and confront our foe.”

Most people do not have to confront the terror of Nazi Germany, however, we will all have something we need to turn back to. We all have something to do driven by the spiritual winds of our lives. This could be a troubled friend, a spiritual crisis or perhaps a difficult business situation, but eventually, we will have to turn back and confront our foe. Jesus knew Peter would turn away and come back. Bonhoeffer also could never escape his mission. Similarly, we all have that thing that we need to turn back to. Maybe it is not as dramatic, but it nags us. Our peace will only come when we turn back. Accepting the wind and its course heals us and moves us closer to satisfying our yearnings to be with God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman