“Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths” (Psalm 119:1-3, NLT).
I recently read the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and the key founding member of the Confessing Church in Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich in Germany prior to and during World War II. Bonhoeffer, who wrote the Christian classic, The Cost of Discipleship, was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Nazis at the age of thirty-nine for his Christian faith and participation in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.
The detailed biography was an interesting and inspirational read but left me with some disturbing theological questions concerning the tension between good and evil in this present world. Although Metaxas probably didn’t intend to agitate his readers when writing the biography, the story of Bonhoeffer’s brief life and tragic death certainly raised some concerns about God’s justice for me!
While the biggest theological issue we Christians may encounter today is whether it’s more righteous to sing worship songs from the hymnal or from words flashed on a large screen at the front of the sanctuary, Bonhoeffer, himself a patriotic German and Christian, had to deal with Nazi threats and intimidation.
And, the theological issue that Bonhoeffer grappled with as he witnessed the annihilation of Jews and the persecution of Christians under the Nazi regime was this: Can evil become so evil that the good must commit an act of evil to eradicate it?
As the book ended with Bonhoeffer’s death at the hands of the Nazis, it left me with some unresolved theological issues. Why did Bonhoeffer have to die so young? Wouldn’t he have been more useful to God alive than dead? Furthermore, is it possible that the evil human beings commit against one another is sometimes so onerous that it requires the blood sacrifice of other human beings to mitigate it?
“For the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible” (Leviticus 17:11, NLT).
Of course, we know that blood sacrifice is the reason that Christ came into this world. The punitive damage brought upon the earth and the human race from the human heart led astray by evil–what we call original sin–could only be assuaged by One greater than human beings, that is, God Himself in Christ.
But, does the magnitude of evil in this world sometimes rise to the level that only blood sacrifice can mollify its proliferation, like a vaccine restraining a potential epidemic? When God’s law is immeasurably perverted to the extent that innocent blood is shed, does it require an in-kind sacrifice of goodness to keep evil somewhat in check?
The same principle of blood sacrifice with which Christ broke the power of sin and death seems to be applicable to Christ’s followers in the face of extreme evil. Otherwise, why were all the apostles tortured and executed? It seems that is the case with the life (and death) of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
I suppose my ponderings seem more like a book review and that the theological questions I have raised are far beyond the scope of this meditation (or this blog) to resolve. So, let me pose my Biblically-questionable speculation and bring an end to all this musing.
Great acts of evil can only be mitigated by great apportionments of grace. When the magnitude of the evil that humanity brings on itself becomes so considerable, it seems that it requires blood sacrifice to counterbalance it.
If there is no one willing to die for good, then evil, particularly profound evil, will perpetuate itself and attempt to seize control over all that is good. Ostensibly, great evil can only be ameliorated by the actions of people of integrity who stand on principle and are willing to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, for what is true, right and good.
Whether or not one should perform an act of evil to fight against evil, only God can judge. As for me, I admire and esteem Dietrich Bonhoeffer for his Christian integrity.
He did not compromise with evil!
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. (Matthew 16:24-25, NLT)