I woke up a little on the early side this morning…my alarm went off at 5:30a, but by that point I had been up for around an hour. I got myself in the car and headed to Austin. I spent most of the ride listening to the end of Ezekiel and to the Eric Metaxas’ book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
I’ll be honest, the major prophets, particularly Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel can be challenging to get through, particularly some parts of the books. It wasn’t until I sat down and began to think about Bonhoeffer and what I wanted to say about what I “read” or listened to this morning that I made a connection between Bonhoeffer and the prophets. Both had incredible vision. Some might argue that the prophets visions was supplied by God, but I think that if you read Bonhoeffer’s story, it is easy to see that his vision was also a vision from God.
Vision is a hot word in business, leadership, and the church these days. You can get consultants who can help your organization cast a vision for its future that is supposed to rally people to fulfill the goal and make the organization stronger. I think that his aspect of vision is critical, so much so that it almost cannot be overstated. Churches, business, people in life, do better when they know where they are going and believe in the direction.
But when I look at the prophets and Bonhoeffer, their vision was not limited to an ideal future. They had an incredible awareness of the present state. Bonhoeffer was a church leader in a Germany that is synonymous with hate, prejudice, and genocide. The Nazi party was on the rise during Bonhoeffer’s rise in the German church and was in full swing by the time he reached 30.
When the Nazi’s essentially took over the German church, Bonhoeffer steadfastly opposed the church at every step. He uncompromisingly tried to fight the Nazis out of the German church and when that failed, attempted to get as many pastors as he could to leave the German church and join what he would define as the “true” and “only” German church. Many, most in fact, of these pastors wanted to work with Nazis, particularly at first. They kept trying to find ways to workout some framework in which their faith could coexist with Nazi ideals and philosophy in the same ecclesiastical (church) structure. Bonhoeffer saw the heresy and steadfastly refused to go along with it.
Looking back from our vantage point 80 years later, it is easy to see that Bonhoeffer was correct and that there was no reasoning with or working with Hilter and the Nazis. The church leaders who tried to work with them, many of them close friends of Bonhoeffer, now look foolish. But I have to ask myself, how many of us could have stood as Bonhoeffer did? How many of us have the vision to see the world as it truly is?
Remember, these men who now look so foolish had devoted their lives to the German church, they had committed their education, careers, and families to the service of God through this organization. They had labored for years: christening family members, burying parents and friends, worshipping and working in this church for their entire lives. Would we have been able to see what was happening any more clearly than they did? My prayer is that God give me vision to see not only an ideal future, but the world as it truly is.
My prayer for the church is that we learn to look and ask God to help us see. I can assure you that if we do not learn to have the kind of vision that the prophets had, that Bonhoeffer had, we are going to look like many of Bonhoeffer’s friends in history. People will look back and ask, “how did they not see, it was right there?”
This kind of vision though requires courage over and above natural courage. It requires courage to leave what we know, what we have worked for, what we are comforable with. It requires courage to stand against friends. It requires courage to examine our own lives and our own hearts to make sure that we are following God as we have been called to. So I pray not only for vision, but for courage. I pray that I will be courageous and that our churches will be courageous and see the world, see their world as it truly is.