An Almost Love Story

“I was once in love with a girl; she became a theologian…”[1]

So began the account of an almost love story, penned by the hand of the famed martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By all accounts an intense and solitary man[2] the Bonhoeffer of younger years appears to have opened his heart to only her and in the kindred soil of shared experience their love took root.

For more than eight years, Elizabeth Zinn was his confidant, correspondent; his friend. And as his fellow student at Berlin University, the two drank deeply of a fellowship that included a range of topics—art, music, and the grand cohesion of all ideas—theology. In fact, Elizabeth’s doctoral dissertation, later inscribed to him,[3] supplied Bonhoeffer with one of his landmark quotations, “Embodiment is the end of God’s path.”

For Bonhoeffer and Zinn however, the end followed an earnest and very forthright discussion. “… it was too late,” he later wrote of their encounter. “We had evaded and misunderstood each other for too long. We could never be entirely in sympathy again…”[4]

That was it. No bitterness; just the fixed and firm awareness of a shadow fallen and a door now sealed; a solemn recognition of a thing that was and is no more. I understand that feeling. It is a cold and barren place to be.

Even so, (or perhaps because of it’s being so?), the romantic in me revolted at his words. I wanted closure for these two; I wanted the kiss, the smile, and the final joyous and happy ending. But this was life, not a fairytale. Somewhere along their path, a disconnect occurred; evasion and misunderstanding came in to steal away what remained. We know the rest: Bonhoeffer met the gallows and Zinn married someone else. The two never wrote or spoke to one another again. And we, the erstwhile students of their brief history are left longing for something infinitely… more.

Tomorrow I hope to add some thoughts on redemption; that is, the sovereign actions of the merciful God over this and other such apparent wastelands of the heart.


[1] Metaxas, Eric; Timothy J. Keller (2010-04-20). Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (p. 66). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[2] This appears to change somewhat later in his life as he warmly gathered friends close to his heart.

[3] Two years prior, Bonhoeffer had inscribed her name in his post-doctoral thesis.

[4] Metaxas, Eric; Timothy J. Keller (2010-04-20). Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (p. 66). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.


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