The Beauty and Truth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life and Death: A Book Review
by Derrick G. Jeter
Truth and beauty are found in a life well lived and a death well died. No life was more truthful or beautiful than the one lived by the Author of truth and the Artist of beauty—the one who, because of lies, died the ugliest of deaths. And yet, even in that ghastly scene beauty and truth emerge. No life or death, before or since, was as beautiful and truthful as His life. But those who aspire to live lives of truth and beauty can reflect His beauty and His truth—and Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one who reflected His life brightly.
In a circular letter Bonhoeffer asked, “Who can comprehend how those whom God takes so early are chosen? Does not the early death of young Christians always appear to us as if God were plundering his own best instruments in a time in which they are most needed? Yet the Lord makes no mistakes. . . . Whomever God calls home is someone God has loved. ‘For their souls were pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took them quickly from the midst of wickedness’ (Wisdom of Solomon 4).” Bonhoeffer couldn’t have imagined then, during that summer of 1941, that he would be one of those whom God loved and called home in early life. Murdered on the gallows of Flossenbürg Concentration Camp on April 8, 1945, Bonhoeffer hadn’t quite reached the mature age of forty.
The beauty and truth of Bonhoeffer’s life is truthfully and beautifully told by Eric Metaxas in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. In a culture dominated by banal and vulgar celebrity biographies—of characters depicted more as caricatures than flesh and bone humanity—Bonhoeffer paints a pen portrait of a real man who grew up immersed in art and music and intellectual rigor at the heart of German culture and academics. Yet Bonhoeffer the man never appears as a bespectacled and cultured snot or egghead. Metaxas introduces us to an intellectual giant who lived his life with simplicity and humility, just like the life of his Lord. And when Bonhoeffer died, Dr. H. Fischer-Hüllstrung, who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s execution, offered this moving testimony: “At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” The only other One to do so was Bonhoeffer’s Lord.
If truth and beauty are found in a life well lived and a death well died, then Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and death reflect beauty and truth, indeed. And Eric Metaxes’s biography of Bonhoeffer’s life and death captures both beautifully.