In many ways the way we live depends on the questions we ask. On what do we ground our beliefs? How do we determine right from wrong, and good from evil, when the choices are compromised, the outcomes unclear, the stakes high, and one’s conscience conflicted? Is reason or duty a solid foundation for right living?
Theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrestled with such questions personally, and at great cost. His writings detail his internal struggle to discern the right and act on it in the midst of a world gone mad. In the midst of considering a particular moral dilemma, he famously offers—and begins to answer—a broader question: Who stands fast in the face of evil and injustice?
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?
It is a question not only for Bonhoeffer’s time, but for ours. This Trinity Forum Reading features Bonhoeffer’s essay “After Ten Years,” in which he takes an unflinching look at the tension between public responsibility and private virtue. Bonhoeffer wrote “After Ten Years” just months before his arrest by the Gestapo. Intended in part to encourage his friends with an account of their time together, “After Ten Years” also answers questions about his own reasoning in deciding to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler.
Whether or not we agree with Bonhoeffer’s answers, the questions he poses can still help us thoughtfully consider and frame the issues of our own day, both public and private. Bonhoeffer helps us think clearly about such themes as wisdom and folly, success and failure, trust and hope, the deceptive allure of power, and the relationship between the sovereignty of God and our responsibility to act.
The essay is introduced with a Foreword by Eric Metaxas, founder of Socrates in the City and author, among many other books, of the New York Times best-selling Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, as well as the biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.
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