Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian positioned in a challenging historical situation. As a Christ-follower, pastor and professor he wrestled with the dynamic of Hitler’s dictatorship and the terror of the Holocaust.
What must a responsible disciple of Christ do in such an impossible context? Many turned a blind eye to the situation and plugged their ears. Bonhoeffer pushed for and modeled a different path. His comments are wise and challenging in this regard.
Here and there people flee from public altercation into the sanctuary of private virtuousness. But anyone who does this must shut his mouth and his eyes to the injustice around him. Only at the cost of self-deception can he keep himself pure from the contamination arising from responsible action. In spite of all that he does, what he leaves undone will rob him of his peace of mind. He will either go to pieces because of the disquiet, or become the most hypocritical of Pharisees.
Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles. his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God. Where are these responsible people?
Responsible action is messy. When you enter the fray obediently, staying clean is unlikely. The idea that a Christian can stay faithful and unscathed by the mess around them is faulty. This “private virtuousness” that removes our neighbors from us and keeps the world at bay is no virtue at all.
Bonhoeffer’s theology would root virtue in the cross; the embodiment of contamination for responsible action.