Editor's note:

When Christ calls a man to fol­low, he beck­ons him to come and die.” —Diet­rich Bonhoeffer

In a para­dox so raw that it sears the heart, Bon­ho­ef­fer, while in a Nazi prison, came to delin­eate what Richard Fos­ter calls four great dimen­sions of a spir­i­tu­al life that lead to free­dom in all its facets.” With Richard Fos­ter, we, too, encour­age you today to con­sid­er these ideas anew. 

—Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Streams of Living Water

On the day Diet­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer heard that the 20 July 1944 attempt to assas­si­nate Hitler had failed — the day he knew that his own fate and the fate of his friends was sealed — he wrote an account of his life in a poem enti­tled Sta­tions on the Road to Free­dom.” Brood­ing in his Tegel prison cell, he set forth the four great dimen­sions of a spir­i­tu­al life that lead to free­dom in all its facets — free­dom from ingrained habits of sin, free­dom from cow­er­ing inac­tion and irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty, free­dom from fear of a mon­strous­ly demon­ic and immense­ly pow­er­ful nation-state. Lis­ten care­ful­ly and prayer­ful­ly to his words, for they speak of the holi­ness of life:


If you set out to seek free­dom, then learn above all dis­ci­pline of soul and sens­es, so that your pas­sions and your limbs might not lead you con­fus­ed­ly hith­er and yon. Chaste be your spir­it and body, sub­ject to your own will, and obe­di­ent to seek out the goal that they have been giv­en. No one dis­cov­ers the secret of free­dom but through self-control.


Dare to do what is just, not what fan­cy may call for; Lose no time with what may be, but bold­ly grasp what is real. The world of thought is escape; free­dom comes only through action. Step out beyond anx­ious wait­ing and into the storm of events, car­ried only by God’s com­mand and by your own faith; then will free­dom exul­tant­ly cry out to wel­come your spirit.


Won­drous trans­for­ma­tion! Your strong and active hands are tied now. Pow­er­less, alone, you see the end of your action. Still, you take a deep breath and lay your strug­gle for jus­tice, qui­et­ly and in faith, into a might­i­er hand. Just for one bliss­ful moment, you tast­ed the sweet­ness of free­dom, then you hand­ed it over to God, that he might make it whole.


Come now, high­est moment on the road to free­dom eter­nal, Death, put down the pon­der­ous chains and demol­ish the walls of our mor­tal bod­ies, the walls of our blind­ed souls, that we might final­ly see what mor­tals have kept us from see­ing. Free­dom, how long we have sought you through dis­ci­pline, action, and suf­fer­ing. Dying, now we behold your face in the coun­te­nance of God.

Excerpt­ed from Streams of Liv­ing Water by Richard J. Fos­ter, pub­lished 2001 by Harper­One. Copy­right Richard J. Fos­ter. Used with permission.

1. Trans­lat­ed from Wider­stand und Erge­bung, pp. 403 – 4, as cit­ed in A Tes­ta­ment to Free­dom: The Essen­tial Writ­ings of Diet­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer, ed. Gef­frey B. Kel­ly and F. Bur­ton Nel­son (San Fran­cis­co: Harper­San­Fran­cis­co, 1990), pp. 542 – 43.

Originally published December 2001

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