If Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s courageous efforts of resistance were not due to any deep, abiding awareness of his Jewish roots as a Christian, how could this have any positive ramifications for 21st century Christians?
First of all, it should be said that Bonhoeffer’s resistance was no less heroic or noble if indeed he acted on “just” or “merely” a high moral call-to-action outside of any theological connection to “Israel” per se. The light of his Christian witness will forever shine in the darkness. But a question worth asking is this: What if both Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church had theologically viewed the Jewish people in true biblical theological light: as one grafted-into Israel (Romans 11), not as a triumphalistic replacement of Israel? What if this key body of resisting Christians saw themselves as residing in the “us” category of familial intimacy within Israel rather than seeing the Jews as “the other?” Herein lies the rub: a more biblical, new covenant, messianic approach, in contrast to traditional Christian teaching, does see faith in the long-awaited Jewish Messiah as necessitating one’s being a legitimate, prophetic, divinely-ordained part of Israel – not an entity unto itself – thus positioning the Jewish people ipso facto, theologically speaking, in the “us” category alongside Christianity. This should make all the difference in the world between the Church’s behavior in the Holocaust era and our behavior now. This shift in self-apprehension is a major shift of our “universe of obilgation,” stretching the bounds of responsible action across the massive theological gulf created by supersessionistic Replacement Theology.
The Nazis needed help?
Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto, Michael Marrus, in an interview on December 12, 1997 at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, shares this key insight on the topic of resistance:
“The idea that the whole of Europe could be transformed according to a particular Nazi blueprint was a nationalist, socialist project that had its own history, mainspring, and dynamic. What was so extraordinary about the Holocaust was that this Nazi program operated with the assistance and collaboration of all kinds of elements in Europe. Seeing the coordination of these instruments of government and leadership is essentially the history of the Holocaust itself, and explains how the Nazis were able to do it. Looking back, as historians must, I guess one is “impressed” with the limited means that Nazi Germany had at its disposal. By using those means alone, the destruction could never have reached the degree or level that it did. The Nazis needed help everywhere ― albeit sometimes more, and sometimes less. The history of the Holocaust is that of the process by which the Nazis secured this aid: sometimes by trickery; sometimes by enticement; or the brutalization of local populations; or, the encouragement afforded to specific, collaborationist elements.”
This is an obscure insight, a brow-furrowing notion that should present itself like a blinking neon billboard on a dark night to those who care about the memory of the victims of the Final Solution and the ongoing effort to repeat that catastrophe today: “The Nazis needed help everywhere ― albeit sometimes more, and sometimes less.” Here is a key to striking the Achilles heel of the propaganda war being waged against Israel today, condensed into four little words: the Nazis needed help. The proper “biblical,” hence, “moral” reaction to this blinking neon billboard? We must ask ourselves the question: Who are we helping by our passivity, by the eloquence of our silence in the face of the ongoing assault on human memory, which translates into a direct assault on the Jewish people, which, to a believing individual, presents itself as tantamount to an assault upon God Himself? Who, by our inaction, are we helping? Our failure to assemble forces of resistance, to procure provisions of food and weapons and tools, to sabotage bridges and set charges to railway lines distributing anti-Semitic hate around the world should be seen as action in direct support of the enemies of Israel.
A Symphony of Salt & Light
Certainly, we must pray for the Jewish people, for all of Israel, for the peace of Jerusalem. But, if we also listen very closely, listen actively, with tuned ears, to the past, even to the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we can hear strains of music that speak to us in our time about necessary godly action to be taken in association with prayer as the world again aligns itself against Israel. As it is written of those who re-built the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah: “Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other…” (Nehemiah 4:17).
Whether or not a harmony is pleasing is a matter of personal taste, as there are consonant and dissonant harmonies, both of which are pleasing to the ears of some and not others. What we “hear” in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer may be dissonant in relation to what we’d like to hear, and yet, through purposeful exposure to that dissonance we may discover an unfinished symphony of salt and light that may not only be heard around the world, but received with hearts wide open.
Part IV: Two-handed resistance…