dietrichWhen I saw that Amanda Barratt was tackling a novel about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ill-fated love, I knew I wanted to read it! While I was familiar with the pastor’s part in the conspiracy to kill Adolph Hitler and his ultimate martyrdom, I had no idea he’d been engaged.

Let me begin by saying this was a HARD book. In the best possible way. Any reader paying attention will enter the story knowing it’s not going to be a happily-ever-after romance.

And yet . . . this is a beautiful story. Maria von Wedemeyer was just 19-years-old when she became engaged to the 37-year-old bachelor. Her mother was not in favor of the engagement, thinking Maria too young and Dietrich’s involvement with the conspiracy too risky. Like many mothers, she was probably right.

Still, the couple, mostly through letters and occasional prison visits, shared what I would describe as a passionately appropriate love. Who knew a stodgy theologian could write such gorgeous letters? “Wait with me, I beg you! Let me embrace you long and tenderly, let me kiss you and love you and stroke the sorrow from your brow.”

Ultimately, though, what struck me most about this story is not how romantic the couple were and how they stayed true to one another in the face of the Gestapo and Nazi Germany–it was how real they and the horrors of that war became to me. Bonhoeffer no longer seemed like an idealized man of God–stronger and more holy than I could ever hope to be. He became a man in love with a woman who simply chose to put his love for God ahead of everything else. Including his own life.

Which is exactly what we’re supposed to do. Deuteronomy says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” And the sentiment is repeated in the New Testament.

I John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” Dietrich and Maria couldn’t have loved each other half so well without acknowledging that God is the source of all love. And as hard as their story inevitably is . . . I found it surprisingly full of hope.