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A New Year's Reckoning

Imprisoned and eventually executed by the Nazis for his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler, Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned a New Year’s Reckoning in 1943. In it he said this:

"Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God – the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.”

Bonhoeffer could not justify being implicated in a criminal plot on the basis of conventional notions of righteous behaviour, yet he became complicit anyway. He was willing to sacrifice all – perhaps even his soul – for the sake of humanity. He trusted God was calling him to a cause higher than reason could reckon.

What are we to make of Bonhoeffer’s "obedient and responsible action” in light of contemporary examples of inhumanity? So often, inhumanity shows up in the form of one group of people using their power to deprive others of their life, liberty, or the fruit of their love or labour. How is it possible that anyone can justify exploiting a child sexually, enslaving a fellow human being, or robbing an impoverished widow of her land and livelihood?

International Justice Mission (IJM) stands against these and other forms of inhumanity in obedience to God’s call to seek justice.

Such action is indeed obedient. Considering that the Bible condemns injustice over and over again (the word appears some 194 times), overcoming injustice is a faith-filled response to God.

But, as Bonhoeffer said, such action must also be responsible. This is why IJM uses a carefully developed method to rescue victims from violence, works with local authorities to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, and establishes the highest possible standards to restore survivors to wholeness. It is this abiding sense of responsibility that moves IJM to address not only the symptoms but also the root causes of injustice. Ultimately, by our efforts, and through the financial support of thousands around the world, and with God’s help, faulty justice systems are being repaired.

As I come to the beginning of a new year, I am humbled to be associated with an organization which, in the spirit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, strives for obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God. Over the years, IJM has relieved more than 25,000 people from oppression, trained more than 29,000 officers and officials since 2012, secured more than 900 convictions, and helped protect 21 million people from violence.

It’s been said that Dietrich Bonhoeffer redefined the Christian life as something active, not reactive. Not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life, but a life lived in a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom. A way of being that is obedient to the one who made us, which is the fulfillment of our destiny.

I will begin my new year grateful to God for the company of heroes that surrounds me, and inspired by an organization that tries to make its whole purpose – and thus my life – an answer to the question and call of God.

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