One of my favourite theologians who modelled joy amid difficult circumstances and social distancing is German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer’s story unfolds with Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Bonhoeffer's beliefs led him to actively resist the Nazi regime and even establish an illegal underground seminary known as the “Confessing Church.” Subsequently, he was arrested in 1943 by the Gestapo, incarcerated for two years, and finally executed.
How did Bonhoeffer remain joyful during such trying circumstances and social distance? In November 1942, he wrote in a letter to his best friend Eberhard Bethge:
How are we going to be able to help those who have become joyless and discouraged if we ourselves are not borne along by courage and joy? Nothing contrived or forced is intended here, but something bestowed and free. Joy abides with God, and it comes down from God and embraces spirit, soul, and body; and where this joy has seized a person, there it spreads, there it carries one away, there it bursts open closed doors.1
Bonhoeffer’s joyfulness was forged from his unshakeable confidence in God. His immense view of Christ enabled him to remain joyful amid his circumstances. Let us heed the example of Bonhoeffer in these days of physical distancing by remaining devoted to prayer, meditating on God’s word, serving the Lord with gladness, giving hope to others and fixing our eyes on Christ, the source of our joy.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)
Bill Gemaehlich is the EVP/COO operations at Insight for Living Ministries.
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 16, Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940–1945 (Fortress, 2006), 377-378.