That’s what Eric Metaxas’ writing career has become.
He never set out to write a great biography nor did he set out to write children’s literature, but he has done both.
He has also written three books about apologetics, won numerous nonfiction awards and was this year’s speaker at the National Day of Prayer.
Metaxas shared the story of his journey with a capacity audience at the Lee University Chapel Wednesday.
While attending Yale University, Metaxas found himself contemplating the meaning of existence. Metaxas said the answer he received at Yale was rather depressing.
“The feeling that you get is you don’t ask those kinds of question. The assumption is that the meaning of life is that there is no meaning,” Metaxas said.
He said this belief is “extremely depressing” if one thinks about it because then none of their actions matter.
“Your love for your children is no different than if you cut somebody’s head off. Who can face that? Almost no one. Why? Because it just so happens you were created by God in his image and these kinds of things [such as the thought of life having no meaning] are not supposed to resonate with you,” Metaxas said.
After graduating from Yale University, Metaxas felt his writing career go on hold when he had to move back home at the age of 24.
“It was not a fun time,” Metaxas said. “(My parents) their attitude was, ‘Eric it’s nice that you want to find yourself, why don’t you go find yourself a job?’”
It was during his most boring job, proofreading long texts that he called “misery,” that Metaxas met a man who introduced him to the concept of a personal relationship with God and to the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
“He shared his faith with me and over the course of many months by God’s grace I had a lot of intellectual challenges removed. I did not come to faith, but I was beginning to think I guess it’s more plausible than I thought,” Metaxas said.
It wasn’t until Metaxas had a dream “where Jesus basically reveals himself to me” that he came to faith in Jesus.
“The Lord led me on a strange, strange path,” Metaxas said.
A path that has included writing more than 20 children’s books, and working with “Veggie Tales.”
Metaxas had not thought about writing a biography until he was approached to write “Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery.” After having countless people ask who his second biography would be about, Metaxas chose to write a biography on Bonhoeffer. It was this book that led to him being contacted by the White House to meet President George W. Bush. (Metaxas has also met President Barack Obama.)
In retelling this great man’s story, Metaxas said he was careful to include the details of what was happening in Germany between World War I and World War II.
“Bonhoeffer was born (in Germany) in 1906 into what must, must be described as a spectacular family,” Metaxas said. “Something about the story of Bonhoeffer is amazing.”
Even before the Nazis and Adolf Hitler had fully released their plans for Germany, Bonhoeffer had a sense that the country was headed in a bad direction.
“Bonhoeffer had the benefit — because of being from such an extraordinary family — of being very well connected, and knowing what was going on in higher circles in Germany,” Metaxas said. “He knew what the Nazis were planning.”
As the Nazis changed the church, to make it a strictly German church, Bonhoeffer spoke out against it. He also urged Germans not to look to a man to save their country from the postwar devastation, but to look to God. He was one of the thousands of pastors who formed the Confessing church.
“Bonhoeffer knew that even the members of the Confessing church ... weren’t seeing how this was going. They didn’t see that the Nazis were at war with the idea of the church of Jesus Christ,” Metaxas said.
Government regulations were imposed that made it increasingly difficult for Bonhoeffer to speak publicly. He led an underground seminary to train ministers for the Confessing Church.
With war on the horizon, Bonhoeffer set sail for the United States to avoid being forced to serve in the war. However, he left 26 days later with the sense that God was calling him back to Germany. Bonhoeffer joined his brother-in-law and many others in planning assassination attempts on Hitler’s life. However, it was not his involvement in these plots that sent him to a military prison, rather it was charges of money laudering to help seven Jews leave the country. After the plans against Hitler were discovered, Bonhoeffer was sentenced to death three weeks before the end of the war.
“The first time I heard that I thought, ‘This is the definition of tragedy,’” Metaxas said. “Three weeks before the end of the war, at age 39, this exceedingly brilliant man, engaged to this beautiful, wonderful women is killed. It’s just unbearable.”
However, Metaxas said that Bonhoeffer would not want readers to have this view.
“Bonhoeffer went to the gallows as a man who knew God personally ... he felt God had led him to do everything he did,” Metaxas said.
Metaxas said Bonhoeffer had written that if someone truly experiences knowing God they are homesick for heaven.
“Everything changes,” Metaxas said.” He went to the gallows with the peace of God knowing that he was not going to his death but into the arms of a God who loved him and whom he knew. Ultimately the story of Bonhoeffer is one of inspiration.”
Metaxas said Bonhoeffer’s story is really about how Christians can live a different kind of life that truly makes a difference in a world that believes life has no meaning.