My latest post on Bonhoeffer resulted in much feedback, most of it verbal and in e-mails. Each person alluded to their belief that today we are in 'similar' times (more or less). I would agree, but with this caveat, we are probably always in similar times...
On our recent trip to Florida and back, we spent lots of time in the car. On several occassions the relative quiet of the car was disrupted by the moaning sound of the tires crossing the white line. Many of you know it as well. The side of the road has grooves in it so that as one crosses over the white line the resulting sound will serve to startle the driver out of sleep or "high way trance" or whateve might be going on. Of course, many times, it is just some slight drifting, but the noise is still there.
When we drive, a slight turn of the wheel (especially at a mile/minute or faster) can quickly produce tragedy. We are always a few feet away from colliding with a car in the next lane. We are sometimes little more than that from being off the road and into a tree. There are times when a "near miss" drives that home to us, perhaps we drift more than our normal drifting and suddenly realize it. Or someone cuts in early when passing us so we need to slam on the break to save our front end (that also happened). Or we look in our rearview mirror and notice the faces include the driver of the car behind us, so close we can make out the color of his eyes! The shot of adrenaline which accompanies such near misses is a function of our sudden awareness of how tenuous and dangerous driving really is.
One of the things that most struck me in the book so far (I am on page 334 of 542) was the oath of loyalty clergy were expected to make to Hitler (308) The head of the Reichskirke, Dr. Werner, demanded "Anyone who is called to a spiritual office is to affirm his loyal duty with the following oath: "I swear that I will be faithful and obedient to Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer of the German Reich and people, that I will conscientiously observe the laws and carry out the duties of my office, so help me God."
How does it come to this?
How do clergy give their hearts to any political leader? Truth is, it happens, even here. Perhaps more subtly, but it happens nonetheless.
I get the hostility of the secularist. They reject us who stand with Jesus because Jesus refuses to embrace their values and beliefs. The Romans killed Jesus for political reasons, all of them tied up with God's Kingship and authority. (even "the church" struggles with Jesus' Lordship, in large part because Christian hearts are not submitted, truly, to Him)
American culture has always been at war with Jesus to some extent. Many of us have not seen it because of our prefered political views. Blinded by our own set of (mis)values we take from Jesus what we like and disregard the rest... However, it is also true that anger and even hatred of Jesus followers in the church is on an upswing today. Some of it is politcally inspired through the culture wars, but some of it is more close to evil.
When Obama was elected several stories ran which indicated messianic parallels. We even saw candles with the likeness of Mr. Obama on them (similar to Jesus candles). [Of course, I do not know who made the candles or why and certainly the use was not widespread nor has there been much messianic imagery in the popular press in recent years.] This is not about him at all, it is about the tendency of humans to construct human gods. Rather than worship the Lord, we prefer to create (idolatry) our own. Hitler was a result of the German desire for a strong leader. Right or Left Wing (false) Messiahs are each a possible option. Throughout history, we have always been drifting in our lane, sometimes a bit outside. In today's world, with the remarkable technology and amazing weaponry, it is pretty easy to imagine things going from okay to bad to worse pretty quickly.
I see no Hitler on the horizon, but that does not mean s/he is not there. I do know that the Apocalypse (and I John) indicates that "anti-Christ" is at work among us. Hitler was an anti-Christ. So was Stalin. So have other evil leaders filled the role. Fallen humanity is ever at risk to make the commitment to pure evil. Even good men can go bad.
Bonhoeffer's Germany is a reminder that our sins (anti-semiticism parallels racism, oppressive laws can be unjust, police can enforce bad laws and take away basic freedoms, anger over past hurts can lead to future horrors) in every place and every age can mushroom into hell on earth. And in the beginning it is subtle. Or it seems not worth the fight. Or it is done secretly and revealed later when it is too late.
The life of prayer and holiness is "not" the answer. Prayerful people can still do evil and holy people are still sinners. But prayer and holiness is our best hope. At least until Jesus comes in glory. We need to be vigiliant as to which Fuhrer we make our oaths and pledge our loyalty. And we need to pray our nation can avoid the path of destruction chosen by Germany eighty years ago.