Bernhard Lichtenberg was a German Catholic priest at St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin during the time of the transfer of power to Adolf Hitler. He protested to the Nazi officials concerning the arrest and killing of the sick and mentally ill as well as the persecution of the Jews. He also held weekly prayer meetings for the Jews even though he was threatened by the Gestapo.
He is one of thousands of Germans who gave their lives in resistance to the Nazis. He was eventually arrested, beaten, and died on his way to the Dachau concentration camp. He wrote to the Chief Physician of the Reich reminding him that the Lord will hold the Germans accountable for their crimes against humanity.
This quote from one of his writings is most inspirational: “I reject with my innermost the deportation of the Jews with all its side effects, because it is directed against the most important commandment of Christianity, ‘you shall love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’ And I recognize the Jew too as my neighbor, who possesses an immortal soul, shaped after the likeness of God.”
The Way I See It…
I wonder if we have lost the ability to be empathetic toward our neighbor because we’ve built walls between us instead of building bridges. Here are three lessons that come from Litchenberg’s life.
Lesson 1 – See every human as an image bearer of God. With political and racial divides in our country, Christ followers need to set the example and give every person dignity and respect. Ephesians 2:14 tells us that Christ tore down the walls of division and hostility. He is our peace and peacemaker. In Kingdom Race Theology Dr. Tony Evans states it this way, “Biblical love is the decision to compassionately, righteously, and responsibly seek the well-being of another person.”
Lesson 2 – Put ourselves in their shoes. We are quick to judge and defend our position rather than listen and try to understand their perspective. The book UnChristian is the results of a study done with 23-30 year olds in America. “Three out of every ten young outsiders said they have undergone negative experiences in churches with Christians. Four out of five young churchgoers say that Christianity is antihomosexual, judgmental, too involved in politics, hypocritical, and confusing.” Jesus was called a friend of sinners and pursued the outcast of society. I agree with the statement in the book, “It is ironic that today His followers are seen in the opposite light.”
Lesson 3 – Disciple making involves engaging with outsiders. The American church has become comfortable inside our Christian bubble and the world has become a foreign land. Lichtenberg could have easily just performed his priestly duties gone about his weekly routine caring for his own parishioners, but he felt compelled and convicted to consider his un-Catholic neighbor and love them too. He even went so far as to stand up for them and speak boldly when they could not speak for themselves. Why would he do this? Love compelled him. Is love compelling you to love those outside of the church?
We won’t all be called to take such a radical stand like Bernhard Lichtenberg did in his context in 1942, however, we are all called to love as Christ loved.