Life Lessons from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Vivian Bricker

Contributing Writer
Published: Sep 07, 2022
Life Lessons from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Following in the footsteps of a martyr can be quite fear-provoking, but as Christians, we have to ask ourselves, “Would I do the same thing?” Are we truly willing to die for our faith as Dietrich did?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been an inspirational figure throughout history. Bonhoeffer died when he was young, yet his teachings and legacy still live on today. I became interested in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer after discovering his involvement in the resistance of the Third Reich in Germany. Bonhoeffer taught us what it looks like to stand strong in the presence of a tragic time in history and how to be brave. Bonhoeffer could have remained in America and never returned to Germany, but he chose to go back and stand with his own people. 

1. Focus on God and Seek Him Out

A life lesson we can learn from Dietrich Bonhoeffer is to focus on God and seek Him out. Bonhoeffer was a man focused on God, fully and completely, throughout his entire life. Even though the majority of his family were not believers, Dietrich still focused on God and knew he wanted to be a theologian and a pastor when he got older. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a psychiatrist and a neurologist while his mother, Paula Bonhoeffer, was a teacher. 

Dietrich’s mother taught him much about the Bible and Christianity. While Dietrich’s other brothers saw the Bible stories as simply children's fairy tales, Dietrich saw them as the true Word of God. Throughout Dietrich’s childhood and up until his death at 39, he remained focused on God, seeking Him out. Dietrich’s life challenges us to focus on God and seek Him even in the darkest days. Living through the Third Reich would have frightened anyone, especially if you were a Jew. While none of us are currently experiencing the tragedy of Nazi Germany, we have our own dark seasons of life. It is crucial in these times to follow Dietrich’s example by focusing on God and seeking Him. 

2. Be Brave—Even in the Face of Fear

A second life lesson we can learn from Dietrich Bonhoeffer is to be brave even in the face of fear. When we face a fearful situation, we have two options. We can either run from the fear, or we can be brave and face the fear head-on. Dietrich traveled to the United States in June of 1939 because of an invitation sent by the Union Theological Seminary in New York. This was right in the middle of the Third Reich. Dietrich could have stayed in the United States, away from the terrors of Nazi Germany, but he chose to return to Germany two weeks later. 

He chose to return and stand alongside his fellow anti-Nazi Germans and remain strong in the face of Hitler's military persecution. Rather than caving into fear, Dietrich chose to be brave in the face of fear. In our daily life, we, too, must be brave. Being brave doesn’t mean we aren’t scared—it means that we are scared, but we still do the scary thing anyway. In our own lives, we need to be brave. We cannot retreat from fear. We have to choose to be brave, just like Dietrich. 

3. Remain Hopeful 

A third life lesson we can learn from the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is to remain hopeful. Living in Nazi Germany could easily make one pessimistic and crestfallen concerning the future. Adolf Hitler was in power, and he was doing horrible and evil things. Despite these dark times, Dietrich chose to remain hopeful. He remained hopeful because He knew ultimately, God was in control. In our own daily lives, we, too, can be hopeful by knowing that God is in complete control and nothing can happen outside of His divine will.  (For more on why bad things happen to good people, click here.) 

If you are going through a tough time now in your life, choose to remain hopeful because God is in control. This dark season of your life may endure for a brief period, or it could be more chronic, yet you can remain hopeful because God is in control, and He promises to never leave you (Hebrews 13:5). Choose to remain hopeful even in the face of difficult times. 

4. Hand Disappointments over to God

A fourth lesson we can glean from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life is to give our disappointments over to God. Throughout our years, we will experience many disappointments. Dietrich was in love and engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer Weller, though he never was able to marry her and spend the rest of his life with her. Instead of spending his life with Maria, he was confined to prison. Even though Dietrich went through these disappointments, he gave them to God. While he was in prison, he never complained or grew angry. Instead, he studied and taught others about Christ. 

In the same way, we need to give our disappointments over to God. Some disappointments could be that we lose a longtime friend, don’t get the job we wanted, or a loved one never accepts Jesus as their Savior. Through every disappointment, we need to rely on God and give our disappointments over to Him. Only when we give our disappointments over to God can we experience true healing. 

5. Trust God No Matter the Outcome

A fifth life lesson from Dietrich Bonhoeffer is that we can trust God no matter the outcome. In Dietrich’s own life, he was imprisoned for being a spy and being involved in plots against Hitler. Throughout his imprisonment and up to his execution, Dietrich trusted God even to the moment of death. During Dietrich’s execution, it is reported by many that he knelt to pray before walking up to be hanged in the Flossenbürg concentration camp. Dietrich died on April 9, 1945, in the full peace of knowing that He would be with the Lord. 

Trusting God no matter the outcome can be extremely difficult, but as Christians, it is often called of us. We might not understand why something is happening in our lives, but we can trust God no matter the outcome. Maybe a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or a loved one has chosen to part ways with us. In these circumstances, we must trust God even if we don’t understand why the situation is happening. Everything works out in conformity to God’s will; therefore, we can trust God no matter what. 

Following a Martyr

Dietrich is considered to be a martyr for his faith. Following in the footsteps of a martyr can be quite fear-provoking, but as Christians, we have to ask ourselves, “Would I do the same thing?” Are we truly willing to die for our faith as Dietrich did? By answering these questions, we will be able to live a life more focused on Christ and live on purpose. The modern world is always under the pressure of living a “happy” life, but the truth is that God never promised us that we would have a “happy” life. Rather than happiness, God promises to give us the joy of knowing Him. This joy never leaves us despite what we are going through. Happiness is fleeting and doesn’t last forever, but joy lasts through eternity. 

Often, we are not physically persecuted for our faith, but we might be made fun of or hurt by other people’s words about our faith in Jesus. Instead of letting these things get us down, we need to have joy and rely on God and His goodness, just like Dietrich. Through imprisonments, losses, and world wars, Dietrich chose to focus on God, be brave, remain hopeful, surrender disappointments, and trust God no matter the outcome. In our own Christian walk, we can strive to follow in the loyal footsteps of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

Photo Credit: ©unsplash


Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.

SHARE