“. . . 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 World War I. What emerged was a Nazi regime that slowly gained control over their society, led by Adolf Hitler. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young Lutheran theologian, stood up against this acceptance of the Nazis. He preached against them in the great Lutheran church in Berlin. Over time, the Nazis seized control of the Lutheran Church and were able to have the Catholic Church look away. In response, Bonhoeffer helped start a new church, called the Confessing Church. He organized a clandestine seminary to train young German pastors. In time the Nazi regime then closed the seminary and tightened its grip on every aspect of German life. Fearing for Bonhoeffer’s safety, his friends encouraged him to go to New York City, were he would be safe. He went.
“Bonhoeffer could not shake the thought that he needed to turn back.”
While in New York, however, he remained unsettled. In spite of his wide acceptance and support by leading American theologians, Bonhoeffer could not shake the thought that he needed to turn back. He returned to Germany in 1939 and continued to speak out against Hitler. He was part of one of many attempts to overthrow the Nazi regime. Captured finally, 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.
“Giving up our safety for a noble cause is a hard decision, made easier when we follow the ways of Christ.”
Hidden in today’s verse are the words spoken to Peter by Jesus, “. . . and you, when once you have turned back . . .” Jesus knew that Peter would turn away. He was also sure Peter would turn back. He knew the crisis in 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, made easier when we follow the ways of Christ. We want to be safe, but are left with a nagging feeling. We know we have let someone down. Our character fights with us. We are unsettled until we turn back and complete our task. When we do, we strengthen ourselves and others.
“…we all will have to turn back and confront our foe.”
Most people don’t have to confront the terror of Nazi Germany. But we will all have something we need to turn back to. A troubled friend or perhaps a difficult business situation, but we all 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 isn’t as dramatic, but it nags us. Our peace will only come when we turn back.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
What situations do we have to turn back to?
What holds us back?
Why does going back soothe us?