In the popular movie “Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, the evil woman Victoria gestures to one of her henchmen to “kill her”, in the same tone of voice she would say, “help her.” She wanted the other woman out of the way. Isn’t this the mindset of many today? Killing seems to be as common as shaking hands. We are living in a time when murder is rampant, and many are asking, “How can we stop the killing in schools, theatres, work places and streets?” It’s a complicated issue involving mental health, guns, racial prejudice, and much more. It will be an issue for a long time, and we must not let it drop.
I was reading the other day about the great German Christian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrestled with the same questions and issues. He was the champion for the Jews and others who were convinced that Hitler was the embodiment of evil, and he would not submit to the annihilation of the Jews, even if it cost him his life, which it did. He was murdered by the Nazis a few days before the war ended.
Bonhoeffer was greatly influenced by the philosophy of Mahatma Ghandi’s teaching on passive resistance, which he felt was God’s will for the nations. He was deeply concerned about those who felt that “right” had to be enforced by murder and war. Ghandi had said, “Do not destroy any life; it is better to suffer than to live by force and violence.” This idea has not caught on in the West, where it seems we have forgotten the Ten Commandments and the moral principles upon which our nation was founded. The Commandments will always be timeless wisdom and guidance for human relationships, especially “Thou shalt not kill”.
It would do our nation good to listen to people who have achieved greatness through the years, such as Bonhoeffer, who could see that Hitler was condoning a “murder a minute”, and he did everything he could to stop the killing. We must not forget the 20 kids killed in Connecticut, the nine killed in Charleston, the two killed in Lafayette, and countless others murdered in theatres, workplaces, churches, streets, etc. “This has got to stop!” said the father of Allison Parker of Virginia. We must not forget that human life is sacred.
Bonhoeffer had a term, “cheap grace”. According to his belief, he says a man can say, “I do whatever I want and sing as much as I like and rely on God’s Grace to forgive me.” We cannot live like we want to outside of God’s Will revealed through Christ. Following Christ may mean personal sacrifice, if need be. Bonhoeffer spent a year at Union Theological Seminary in New York during the war. They offered him any position he wanted, but he chose to go back to his homeland to fight Hitler’s regime through radio broadcasting and preaching. Thus, he was arrested as a traitor to the Third Reich.
Bonhoeffer was sensitive to the social gospel, especially the effect of poverty and unemployment on morals. He was shocked at the unconcern of the church. The church seemed more concerned about saving its own life rather than changing society around it. Hitler had pictured Jesus as a militant hero rather than a suffering servant. So Bonhoeffer spoke out against idolatry of Nazi leadership on the radio. This wrote his death ticket.
When Hitler began burning synagogues, Bonhoeffer remarked, “The synagogue may burn today, but the churches will be on fire tomorrow.” He organized a seminary at Finkenwalde, and it became the center of resistance to Hitler. He was finally forbidden to lecture, publish or preach, and he was involved in a plot to overthrow Nazism. Bonhoeffer said, “If a drunken driver is at the wheel, it is not just the minister’s job to comfort the family of those he kills, but he tries to get the drive before he kills someone else.” He insisted on “religionless” Christianity. He says that our Christian experience is too often hampered by forms of religion, or religiosity. And then, religion becomes unhealthy. The Christian faith can be—and ought to be—constructive, creative and healing. It should be life-affirming, but often it becomes a dark, repressive, life-crippling, judgmental and damaging force. A healthy religion helps us to accept ourselves as imperfect, finite and broken human beings, but with the potential for growth toward wholeness.
So, I believe Bonhoeffer was right on target. A healthy religion increases the enjoyment of life. It helps us to appreciate the Christ-spirit in the world. It respects human beings as part of God’s creation. It does not get stuck in the first century, or during any World War. It is “costly Grace”, but it is the love of God for God’s creation. It is a “live and help live” philosophy which we need so desperately in the world today. Above all, true religion does not kill!
I close with a prayer that Bonhoeffer wrote a few days before he was murdered on April 9, 1945. He was the last victim of the Nazis. He has no grave; his ashes were scattered to the winds.
O God, early in the morning
Do I cry unto you,
Help me to pray,
And to think of only you.
I cannot pray alone.
In me, there is darkness
But with you there is light.
I am lonely, but thou leavest me not.
I am feeble in heart, but thou leavest me not.
I am restless, but in you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness,
But with you there is patience and love. Amen.