Monthly Archives: January 2016

“Do not judge” – What did Jesus mean?

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Jesus, Luke 6:37

dontjudge

When Jesus said, “Do not judge,” what did he mean?

This statement is used in pop culture as a way of discouraging moral judgments. It is taken to mean, I think, “Do not say to someone else, ‘What you are doing is wrong.’” But this is far too simple of an explanation and it doesn’t take long to debunk this interpretation.

“Do not judge” is often used to mean, “You’re old interpretation of morality (especially in regards to marriage/sexuality) is too restrictive. You really should not make moral judgments.” But, first, this itself is a moral judgment. In this very statement, Jesus is making a moral claim. He is saying that you “ought not” to “judge” and you “ought” to forgive. Second, while the culture’s interpretation of what is right and wrong has changed, it still very much makes moral judgments about what is good and what is evil.

In our culture no one would deny that slavery, sex trafficking, murder, and being a bully are wrong. And when we say they are wrong we don’t only mean that we don’t like them, but that they break some standard of what is good. Even if I “liked” slavery, it would still be wrong. You might object and say, “Yes, those things are wrong, but only because they hurt other people. Whether or not someone is injured should be the standard by which something is right or wrong.” However, I don’t think we even apply this evenly either. The root of slavery is racism. Most people would say that racism, even if it only resides within the mind of the racist, is wrong. Hatred is the root of murder. Again, who will argue that hatred is not wrong? And the root of bullying is contempt. Contempt is a matter of the heart. It means to look down on someone else. But don’t we say with moral fervor, “Don’t look down on other people because they are different?”

So it is clear that we all make moral judgments. This is true in every culture across time. Now, you may raise another objection: All cultures have different “lists” of what is right and wrong. Some things are considered morally objectionable in one culture and not in another. Doesn’t this prove that morality, while possibly sincerely felt, is really just arbitrary? I don’t think it does. That’s because while all cultures differ slightly, there is actually remarkable common ground here, too. Every culture agrees that there at least is a standard, even if they don’t agree on exactly what that standard is. Instead of demonstrating the morality is arbitrary, this demonstrates that the existence of some moral standard is, in fact, universally known, though each culture may only see it dimly.

Finally, the context of this verse makes it clear that Jesus is not condemning moral judgments. Consider the word picture in Luke 6:43-45.

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Jesus states pretty clearly here that the heart of a man (whether he is good or bad) can be “recognized”, at least to some degree, by what he says and does. Jesus is making a moral judgment, and he gives us a clue about how to do the same.

So if it doesn’t mean “Don’t make moral judgments” what does it mean?

First, he means, “Do not take the position of God, the position of the perfect and righteous judge.” There are a few things which qualify a person to be the perfect judge. He must know all the circumstances. He must know the person’s heart. He must, himself, be free from any condemnation. Only one person fits that bill: God. In our “moral judgments”, if they must be made, we need to remember that we don’t ever know all the circumstances, or the true position of the person’s heart, nor are we free from accusation. The best we have are clues, and we ourselves are nearly always guilty of the same sort of sin, even if it manifests itself in different ways in our lives.

Second, he means, “Do not judge unfairly.” There are a few ways that we judge unfairly.

We can judge based on outward appearance: “That person looks like a bad apple.”

We can assume the worst about someone: “That action must mean that they are a jerk.” It is a good rule to interpret someone else’s words and actions not in the worst possible light, but in the best.

We can “pre-judge” or judge solely on a first impression, assuming that this first impression gives us an accurate picture of their whole life.

Finally, we could judge someone based on their group; stereotyping.

Third, he means, “Don’t be a hypocrite.”

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Luke 6:41-42

The problem with the brother pointing out the speck wasn’t precisely that he was pointing out a speck, it was that he had a plank in his own eye. The problem was hypocrisy. It was pointing out the sin in someone else without dealing with his own sin first.

It is also worth pointing out that this principle “do no judge” comes from a larger principle, which is sort of a restatement of the golden rule. In this section Jesus is basically saying, “do to others what you want (God or others) to do to you.”

If you don’t want to judged unfairly, don’t judge others unfairly.

If you don’t want to be condemned, don’t condemn.

If you want to be forgiven, forgive others.

If you want to be provided for, give generously to others.

If you want to be measured in some way, use that same measure on others.

I want to be judged fairly. I want people to assume the best about me and my motives. I don’t want to be judged because I am part of a particular group. I don’t want others to judge me based on a single experience. I do want people to call me out if I am careening off a cliff! I need other people to hold me accountable. But I want them to do it in a gracious way.

A final word of caution: Moral judgments are always dangerous because we are so good at self-deception. We almost always underestimate our own sin and we almost always overestimate our own knowledge. When making a moral judgment, it is always safest to check what is in your own eye first, and often just leave it at that.

Read all Luke 6 over at BibleGateway.com.

 

 

 

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10 non-inspirational quotes from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together

life-together.jpgNote 1: This is not a list of inspiring quotes. Bonhoeffer’s words do not inspire, at least in the “make feel you happy” kind of way we usually use the word. They cut with the sharp knife of truth.

Note 2: It was hard to select only 10 quotes. I had to cut out all the quotes I wanted to select from the first chapter since I had already covered them here.

Note 3: All page numbers refer to Life Together published by Harper One, 1954.

Note 4: These quotes don’t really do this book justice. I recommend you get your own copy and read all these in context.

On the importance of starting out the day in worship:

At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. (Click to Tweet) All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought of the first word belong to him to whom our whole life belongs.” (43)

Commentary: Bonhoeffer’s proscription for daily personal and community worship are intense by today’s standards. They include reciting a psalm, reading at least a chapter of the Bible (in family worship), meditating on a shorter section (in personal worship), singing, and prayer. He recommends at least an hour a day of personal devotions for pastors (I’m failing). In this quote he is emphasizing the importance of giving the first part of the day to God in worship.

On the importance of having the right attitude of the heart in worship:

“Where the heart is not singing there is no melody, there is only the dreadful medley of human self-praise. Where the singing is not to the Lord, it is singing to the honor of the self or the music, and the new song becomes a song to idols.” (58-59)

Commentary: Bonhoeffer does not get hung up on the externals of musical worship – though he does, surprising, stress the importance of singing in unison. His most pointed passages on this topic are when he stresses the importance of the heart of the singer. These are some convicting words.

On the importance of practicing both Christian fellowship and Christian solitude:

“Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair. Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” (Click to Tweet) (78)

Commentary: This book is called “Life Together” but Bonhoeffer devotes one chapter to time in silence and solitude. He sees the two not in opposition, but as playing complimentary roles. Time alone prepares you for time together and time together prepares you for time alone. Each is dangerous by itself.

On the nature of silence as it pertains to Christian solitude:

“Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God… Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing.” (79)

Commentary: Bonhoeffer is insistent that we not step away from the Word of God during our times of solitude. In fact, time with the Word is central to the whole process. He speaks of meditation, but not as an emptying process by which we clear our minds, but as a filling process so that we might overflow with the Word of God.

On testing the effectiveness of solitude and fellowship:

“Has fellowship served to make the individual free, strong, and mature, or has it made him weak and dependent? Has it taken him by the hand for a while in order that he may learn again to walk by himself, or has it made him uneasy and unsure? … Furthermore, this [test] is the place where we find out whether the Christian’s meditation has led him into the unreal, from which he awakens in terror when he returns to the workaday world, or whether it has led him into a real contact with God, from which he emerges strengthened and purified.” (88)

Commentary: The “test” to which Bonhoeffer is referring is time in a world hostile to Christian living, something he surely knew well. It is in this test that we can tell whether or not our time along and time together have really been effective.

On the priority of listening:

“One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it.” (98)

Commentary: See the quotes below on the importance of Christian rebuke among a fellowship of believers. But before we can ever speak, either words of encouragement or rebuke, we must really listen.

On the basis of Christian encouragement and rebuke:

“We speak to one another on the basis of the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way that Christ bids us to go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our common destruction. We are gentle and we are severe with one another, for we know both God’s kindness and God’s severity.” (106)

Commentary: The basis of either Christian encouragement or rebuke is, surprisingly, the doctrine of sin. This is the “help we both need” to which Bonhoeffer is referring in the above quote. Of course, this only works if we first honestly consider ourselves the worse of sinners.

On the importance of godly reproof:

“Reproof is unavoidable. God’s Word demands it when a brother falls into open sin. … Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin. It is a ministry of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine fellowship, when we allow nothing but God’s Word to stand between us, judging and succoring.” (107)

Commentary: On a personal note, God is slowly but surely strengthening my spine. Reproof and rebuke are never easy but, as Bonhoeffer rightly states, are unavoidable if we hope to really care for the spiritual life of another.

On the nature of genuine spiritual authority:

“Genuine authority realizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority… The question of trust, which is so closely related to that of authority, is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possess. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own.” (109)

Commentary: So often authority is coercive. For Bonhoeffer this is anathema. Because we are never to have “direct access” to another soul we must always only approach people as mediated through Christ. This means we serve others best (which is the basis of Christian authority) when we serve Christ first.

On the destructive cycle of sin and withdrawal:

“Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he comes involved in it, the more disastrous his isolation.” (112)

Commentary: How do we break the cycle of sin and isolation? Bonhoeffer’s answer: Confession, specifically to someone who has a personal understanding of the grace of God in Jesus.

Book Recommendation:

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community

Outliers: Gut reaction

outliers-malcolm-gladwellMy most recent in-car entertainment was Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell’s thesis is that, contrary to the myth of the “self-made” man, the success of “outliers” (extraordinarily successful people) has more to do with luck and the world in which they grew up than it has to do with innate intelligence and drive. Here is my gut reaction to the book:

What I liked:

Gladwell stresses the importance of community as a driving force behind success. I think this resonates with what I have come to understand as a very biblical concept. Humans are innately social individuals who were created to live within community. We are interdependent and our identity is bound to the communities in which we live. I agree with much of his critique of “rugged individualism.”

Second, Gladwell specifically discusses the importance of culture. He does a good job demonstrating how South Korean culture made Korean Air one of the least safe airlines in the world between 1970 and 1999 (it has since turned around), how the high honor/shame culture of Ireland and Scotland made Tennessee and Kentucky so dangerous during the period of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, and how the Chinese culture that arose from rice farming has helped Asian students perform well in math. These are all touchy subjects because Gladwell is making values judgments on cultures, something modern Americans are afraid to do. But he’s right in saying that each culture has strengths and weaknesses and that it’s important what they are. Again, from a pastoral/biblical perspective this makes sense. Each culture has constructive and destructive elements to it. We are unwise to think that the culture we currently live in is somehow the “best” or is above critique.

Third, Gladwell stresses the importance of hard work. One of the key components to his argument is the 10,000 hour rule. It states that you need to work at something for 10,000 hours before you become proficient at it. He applies this to hockey players, computer programmers, musicians, and lawyers. Gladwell’s stress is on someone’s opportunity to work those 10,000 hours. For instance, Bill Gates had the opportunity to develop skills as a computer programmer because he had unparalleled access to a computer lab which only very few people had access to. However, I think it is also worthwhile to note that not only is opportunity important, but so is willingness. More people than just Bill Gates had access to that lab. But he was the one who had the willingness to put in the time. Regardless, Gladwell’s emphasis on hard work parallel’s biblical admonitions to the same.

What frustrated me:

For the first couple of chapters Outliers drove me a little crazy. It really felt like Gladwell was “explaining away” the success of successful individuals. In other words, I felt as though he was detracting from their success by finding alternative explanations which existed outside of themselves, as though their success was somehow an inevitable sociological process. This kind of “explaining away” in sociology isn’t unusual, but it’s still frustrating. There were times when Gladwell would speak in false dichotomies (he was successful because of A, not B) when the more obvious explanation of the data should have led Gladwell to state (he was successful because of A and B). Throughout the book, Gladwell softened a bit on this.

I really enjoy social science books but there is always a danger in relying on this science to “explain away” instead of “explaining” human behavior. “Explaining away” leaves no room for human freedom. It makes something probable inevitable. It is deterministic. “Explaining” helps us see various causes and variables, but never removes human freedom.

My alternative explanation and takeaway:

A corollary of Malcom’s thesis is that, through luck, some people simply have opportunities that others don’t have. Really successful people are all successful because they had the right combination of intelligence, drive, hard work, opportunities, cultural background, and lucky breaks. By and large, I agree with this thesis, but with one caveat. As a pastor I would replace “luck” with “Providence.”

In other words, unique opportunities don’t come out of nowhere. They are not random. They are gifts from the God who reigns over history. We need those gifts to be successful, to be sure. No one can succeed “on their own.” We need those opportunities which God provides. What we need to do is to seize them. No one knows beforehand what opportunities God will place in our path. Our opportunities are not all identical. I didn’t get the same opportunities as Bill Gates. That’s OK. I don’t need to worry about that. I need to do is be faithful to the opportunities that God did give me.

Of course, we also need to redefine success. For Christians, “outlier success” isn’t extraordinary wealth or prestige. It’s extraordinary obedience to God. In this way Jim Elliot is as much of an outlier as anyone.

I read an article last week which talks about Gladwell’s re-discovering his Christian faith some time after writing Outliers. I wonder how it would have differed in that new light.

Sanctity of Life Sunday

A reflection for January 17, 1016.

Today is “Sanctity of Life Sunday,” a day set aside to remember that all life is sacred. All people are created in God’s image and have value because he made and loves them, not because they have some worth to society, but because they have worth to God. This means that each person has, at least, a right to live.

Throughout history there have always been people to whom this right has been systematically denied. There have always been those who are considered “worth less”, “worthless”, or “less than human.” This was the case in Nazi Germany. It was the rationale for the destruction of the Jews. This was the rationale for slavery in the South and the racism that accompanied it and followed it (and continues today). This kind of dehumanizing tendency, even when not stated in such blatant terms, has led to the oppression of many groups throughout history. This grieves the heart of God. It ought also to grieve us.

There have been many groups, especially those who are weak, who lack power, who lack position, and who lack a voice, who have therefore been oppressed and have been denied justice by the strong. The Bible is clear, God is close to the oppressed. He takes the side of the widow and the orphan and the fatherless. Psalm 72:4 is a call to God for justice: “May he defend the afflicted among the needy among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.” Again, the psalmist calls “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4). The psalmist is confident in his prayer because he knows God “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry” (Psalm 146:7).

God calls us to share that same concern. In the prophets he calls Israel to “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). He calls down judgment on those who deny justice to the oppressed: “Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2)

There are many people in our world today who are denied justice, many who are dehumanized, and we should grieve in each and every case. But there is one group in particular for whom I want us to pray for today – the preborn. These are babies, little people within their mother’s wombs. Today it is legal to take away their lives. They have no voice. They are silenced. They are dehumanized. They are simply “tissue”. We learned this past year that they are dismembered, carefully, so that their little body parts can be sold. A human life is traded for convenience. Echoing Isaiah 10 the Word of God speaks to us today, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees.”

What can we do? How can we think and act with the heart of God?

First, it is right for us to mourn and today is the right day to do it. On the one hand “Sanctity of Life Sunday” is a happy reminder that all people are created in the image of God and are therefore precious to him. Everyone here is precious to God. We are not just randomly put together clumps of matter. God made us. Christ died for us. He invites us to live in relationship with Him. But this makes it all the more sad when a person created in God’s image is killed and it is heartbreaking when this is done so at such a systematic and accepted level in our society. The reality is abortion is cause to grieve – for the babies who are killed, for the women who have abortions, and for our society as whole whose conscience has been seared.

Second, we need to pray. If you feel grief, turn your grief to prayer. The psalmists and the prophets regularly call out to God to protect the weakest and the most vulnerable in our world. God cares for these babies and so we call out to him for help.

Third, there are a number of quality “Pregnancy Resource Centers” in the area which are always in need of support. My wife and I have been regularly involved with Alpha Women’s Center for some time, both with financial support and with participation in their events. Pregnancy Resource Centers and other parachurch organization play a huge role in helping women with “unwanted pregnancies” make the decision to give birth and then support them throughout the whole process.

Fourth, we need to teach our sons and encourage the young men who we know to take responsibility for their actions. We need to teach a sexual ethic that is counter to what our culture teaches. As I’ve read through the psalms and the prophets I was struck by how often they show concern for the fatherless. In the context of abortion we need to realize just how much society’s chronic fatherlessness plays into abortion. First, girls who grew up without a father around, or whose father was always absent or abusive, are far more likely to have “unwanted” pregnancies. Second, women who are single are far more likely to have abortions. In other words, more often than not, it is women without a father who are aborting babies without a father. Our abortion problem is directly related to our father problem. The men in our culture need to step up. Big time.

Fifth, there is a proper place and time for political advocacy, attending rallies, and speaking up on behalf of the unborn. One of the prophetic roles of the church, I believe, is to publically expose evil. One of the compassionate roles of the church is to speak up on behalf of the oppressed and powerless. All of this needs to be done in love, but there is a place for it within the church.

Finally, we need to be a church shaped by the gospel. This is the most important thing of all. The gospel teaches us to love both the oppressed and the oppressor for Jesus’ sake. The gospel teaches us to extend grace and we need to be a place and a people of grace. If a young woman within our midst becomes pregnant out of wedlock we need to be the place she goes to for support, not from whom she hides in shame. The gospel teaches us that we are all the worst of sinners and it teaches us that forgiveness and healing is open to all of us. For some time we had a woman attending our church who had had an abortion and was leading support groups for other post-abortive women. She was, like Christ, offering these women both truth and healing. What a beautiful picture of the gospel. God’s love in Christ is amazing. His gospel is good news. It’s in that good news that we find justice and mercy, truth and love, and it is by that good news that we are shaped.

Three dangers to Christian community

Welcome to 2016. This is a big year for American politics with another presidential election on the horizon. I’ve probably never been as disenchanted with the political process or the rhetoric of politics as I am this cycle, though it’s possible that I feel that way every time. Still, while I’m pretty pessimistic about American politics, I’m not pessimistic about life in general. I’m not worried because I trust in a God who reigns over the whole stream of human history and who is able to raise up and tear down both kings and nations. And so while I’m interested in what is going on in politics, I have bigger concerns. I probably won’t be blogging much about politics this year. I have better things to think about, like the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in a time when politics played a huge role in human history. He lived during the time of Nazi Germany. He was involved in the underground “confessing church” and even in a political (failed) plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He understood more than most the role that the theology and the church played in politics and he paid for his convictions with his life, executed just days before the camp in which he was being held was liberated by Allied troops.

Yet, despite the fact that Bonhoeffer lived at such a crucial time in history his writings, at least the books which I have read, are not consumed with the political musings. Instead, he writes about theology. He writes about discipleship. He writes about community. He writes about Christian ethics. He writes about topics which are edifying to the church universal in every day and age. He wrote to the church and for the church, bringing the truth of the Word of God to bear on those who would take up the task of following Jesus.

One such book, Life Together, is an exploration of Christian community. In this post I will be summarizing portions of Chapter 1 of that book. For sake of summary, I have constructed this post a little differently than Bonhoeffer constructed his chapter. Here are three dangers which Bonhoeffer sees as damaging to Christian community.

Loving the ideal more than the actual: Bonhoeffer begins his exploration of Christianity by rooting the reality of Christian brotherhood in the work of Christ for us. “What determines our brotherhood is what the man is by reason of Christ. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us” (25). Our Christianity community is always no more nor more less than this.

But in this there is always a desire for there to be more to Christian community than this objective reality in Christ. Or, rather, there is a dissatisfaction with this reality. We want Christian community to be based on more than this. Instead of giving thanks for the opportunity to fellowship together with believers, we seek some ideal vision of community, and speak angrily back at God when this ideal inevitably fails to be realized. We love the ideal community more than the actual community which God has already given us in Christ. Bonhoeffer summarizes the danger in this way:

“One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience which he has not found elsewhere; he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood. Just at this point Christian brotherhood is threatened most often at the very start by the greatest danger of all, the danger of being poisoned at its root, the danger of confusing Christian brotherhood with some wishful ideal of religious fellowship, of confounding the natural desire of the devout heart for the community with spiritual reality of Christian brotherhood” (26).

Again:

“He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial” (27).

You don’t have to be around the church long to see how great a danger this can be. As much as you might love your particular church family, it will never live up to the “ideal of Christian community.” But God doesn’t give us some ideal, at least not the one in our imagination. Instead, he gives us a community of people reconciled to God in Christ and tells us to love that.

Relying on human love instead of spiritual love: Next Bonhoeffer draws a distinction between “human love” (which he calls a “psychic reality”) and “spiritual love.” He defines the distinction this way: “The basis of all spiritual reality is the clear, manifest Word of God in Jesus Christ. The basis of all human reality is the dark, turbid urges and desires of the human mind” (31).

Human love is that love which relies on natural human affections and for Bonhoeffer it is not always evil in and of itself. It can exist quite naturally in devout men. But when this natural human affection becomes the basis for Christian community, even amongst devout men with the best of intentions, “the result is to dethrone the Holy Spirit, to relegate Him to a remote unreality” (32).

Human love can only take you so far. It enables you to love your friends and those who are like you but that is all. Human love turns to hatred when that love is not reciprocated or when it is rebuffed. It will not allow you to love your enemy.

A Christian community which relies on this human love as the basis of its existence fails theologically – it is dethroning the work of the Holy Spirit (see quote above) and it is denying the work of Christ, which is the actual basis for Christian community. It also fails practically. The Christian community which relies on human love, on natural affections, will necessarily be divisive, both towards those outside the church, and even within the community itself as factions form around personal preferences or as disagreements and slights go unaddressed and unforgiven.

Seeking direct access to another instead of access mediated through Christ: Most dangerously for Bonhoeffer, though, is that human love seeks to have direct contact with another soul.

This is one of the most interesting and unique elements of Bonhoeffer’s theology which I have come across. It shows up in both Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. The basic principle is that Christ is our mediator. He is our mediator between us and God. And, for Bonhoeffer, he is also the mediator between us and everyone else. Or at least he should be. We shouldn’t seek to have direct access to another soul, only access that is mediated through Christ. What he means, I think, is that we are always interacting with people in relation to Christ.

What does it look like for someone to seek direct access to another person, not mediated through Christ? Direct human love wants to possess. It wants that person for its own sake. “It wants to gain, to capture by every means; it uses force. It desires to be irresistible, to rule” (34). This kind of love makes truth relative. It only uses truth in order to gain its ends, the affections of the other. It is ultimately coercive, even if it is not self-consciously so. “Human love constructs an image of the other person, of what he is and what he should become. It takes the life of the other person into its own hands” (36). When direct access to another soul is desired, the weak are overcome by the strong. Manipulation rules the day.

But spiritual love, that mediated through Christ, is of a different and alien kind. “Spiritual love loves [another] for Christ’s sake” (34). Instead of serving the self, spiritual love serves Christ alone. Spiritual love loves always in relation to Christ and to what God has done for that other person. In the case of Christian brotherhood Christ has called and saved and is sanctifying him. Therefore, to love with spiritual love, is to release that other person to Christ:

“Because Christ has long since acted decisively for my brother, before I could begin to act, I must leave him his freedom to be Christ’s; I must meet him only as the person that he already is in Christ’s eyes. This is the meaning of the proposition that we can meet others only through the mediation of Christ” (36).

This sort of love speaks the Word of God to a brother, either a word of encouragement or warning or instruction, and then releases that person to Christ. It does not seek to control or coerce or manipulate.

Human/direct love is always a danger to Christian community since it desires to possess the other when the other really belongs to Christ. This unhealthy desire manifests itself in many ways – a desire to be liked and admired, jealousy, manipulation, failure to speak the truth, etc. All of these are the “fruits of the flesh” and stand in opposition to the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5).

Solution – Applying the gospel to the Christian community: Bonhoeffer’s basis for Christian community provides a solution to all of these problems. His solution is to apply the gospel to Christian fellowship. Bonhoeffer reminds his readers that we must view others in Christian community as they are objectively in Christ and then relate to them through Christ. It is this objective reality which forms the basis of Christian fellowship. We really are one in Christ and our unity is based on him alone. If we give God thanks for this objective reality, we will appreciate all the more the subjective experience that fellowship believers brings.

“The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it” (30).