“If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”
Those words were ascribed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A devoted pacifist until late in his short life, the German theologian ultimately was hanged – one of Christianity’s modern martyrs – because he took part in a failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler in an effort to spare the lives of millions of innocents.
Bonhoeffer’s struggle to properly direct conscience and follow scripture in this situation reinforces that the faithful life frequently offers difficult choices, even beyond the personal cost of obedience.
Most of the moral dilemmas confronting American Christians are perhaps less personal than Bonhoeffer’s question of taking up arms against one of history’s bloodiest tyrants. Even in the midst of relative peace and prosperity, however, people of faith are sometimes faced with hard decisions about legitimate responses to evil.
The debate over healthcare, for instance, pits the desire to care for the poor (including the “middle-class poor” who may be between jobs) against equally strong concerns over the government’s ability to deliver on leaders’ promises or diminishing other priorities.
Consciences can also anguish over appropriate responses to cultural changes that represent newfound liberties to some, while they represent collapsing values to others. Many people welcome legal protections and compassionate attitudes toward homosexuals while finding no room in their faith system to endorse homosexuality itself. Some decry violence against abortion clinics while grieving over what they believe to be the innocent lives taken at such facilities.
Similarly, some lament the nearly universal degradation that hard drugs bring to their abusers but also excruciate over the gang violence and incarceration rates worsened by well-intended Prohibition efforts.
Once Bonhoeffer abandoned himself to his agonizing choice to oppose Hitler, he apparently never regretted either his actions or the looming loss of his own life.
But the course he chose was for him and his fellow, not everyone.
He apparently did not castigate those who could not bring themselves – whether from fear of failure or from constancy of conscience – to join his efforts.
Just so, it is incumbent on all people of faith to realize this: Those who choose different responses – even when they recognize the same dilemmas – may be agonizing as equally over conflicting priorities.
NEMS Daily Journal