Dietrich Bonhoeffer on The Truth Will Set You Free
The following is a portion of a sermon Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached in Berlin on July 24, 1932.
Our lies are against God. They arm themselves against the reality and the truth of God, against his communion and grace, and against his love. Our lies hate the love of God, because they imagine that they have no need of it. The substance of our lies is hate, because the substance of the truth of God is grace and love. One thing becomes clear – truth and lies are not what one says, but what one does. The totality of how one lives. Whoever lives in the lie, lives on hate. That means such people live in chains of their own making. They are bound in fetters. They are slaves to themselves. To recognize this is the beginning of recognizing the truth, which comes alone from God. Whoever is aware of being the slave of lies, anxiety, and hate has been placed in the truth by God. Such people now see that all their supposed truth was lies. And whoever hears this, experiences an inexpressible yearning to be freed from their bondage: “Lord make me free from myself.” From that new encounter comes to him the words: The truth will make you free.
It is not something that we have to do, not our courage, our church, our people, our truth; but God’s truth alone that makes us free. Why? Because to become free does not mean becoming great in the world, not becoming free from your brother, nor even free from God, but to become free from oneself, one’s lie. It means to become free from thinking only of myself, from being the center of my world, from hate, by which I despise God’s creation. It means to be free to be for the other: the person for others. Only God’s truth can enable me to see the other as he really is. It tears out the twisted image that I have of the other within me and shows him to me in a new light. And insofar as God’s truth does that, it bestows upon me the action, the love, the grace of God. It destroys our lies and creates the truth. It destroys hatred and creates love. God’s truth is God’s love and God’s love makes us free from ourselves for others. To be free means nothing less than to be in love. And to be in love means nothing less than being in the truth of God. The man who loves because he has been made free by God is the most revolutionary man on earth. He challenges all values. He is the explosive material of human society. He is a dangerous man. For he recognizes that the human race is in the depths of falsehood. And he is always ready to let the light of truth fall upon his darkness; and he will do this because of his love. But this disturbance, which such people bring, calls forth hatred from the world. And therefore this knight of truth and love is not the hero that men long for or honor, not one who is without enemies; but one whom they would do away with, outlaw, indeed kill. The way of God’s truth leads to the cross. From now on, we know that all truth which is true before God must face the cross. The church that follows Christ must go with him to the cross. Because of its truth and freedom it will be hated by the world. It is also true that a people cannot find truth and freedom unless it stands under the law of God’s truth. A people remains in lies and in slavery until it receives and wants to receive truth and freedom from God alone; until it knows that truth and freedom will lead it into love; yes, until it knows that the way of love leads to the cross. If a people would really know this, then it would become the only people who could rightly be called a free people, the only people which does not become a slave to itself, but the slave of the truth of God and therefore free.
We all, each one individually for himself or herself, and as a people, feel the pressing weight of our chains. O God, protect us, that we are not entranced by the deceitful image of freedom and the temptation to remain in our lies. Give to us that freedom which throws us upon Thee and Thy grace. Lord, with thy truth, make us, as our Lord Jesus Christ is, truly free. Lord we wait upon Thy truth.