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15 shekels of silver was the price (plus some barley) that the prophet Hosea paid to buy back his unfaithful wife when she sold herself into slavery. The prophet’s patient, unyielding, forgiving love is used as an illustration of God’s love- which pursues us into the darkest nights, the blackest shame. God’s grace interrupted my life six years ago as I spun in circles of empty and selfish behavior. He has bought me back through the death of his son and has redirected my course. I am a 28-year-old woman who grew up in northern California and graduated from a liberal northeastern university four years ago with a degree in philosophy. Not the likeliest candidate to become a Bible-believing Christian, take a job in youth ministry and get married a year after graduation. Grace interrupts.

I believe that there is another world through the wardrobe. Since falling in backwards, I have encountered the living God. I believe He came to earth 2000 years ago on a rescue mission to repair what we have broken – to preach good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. He came on a rescue mission to die, because he knew it was the only way that we could live. I believe that the truth of those facts is world-altering, identity changing, perspective shattering. I believe that a deep understanding of Christ’s grace transforms every aspect of life, and that as Paul said in Colossians, Jesus “is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Thus faith isn’t for Sunday mornings; the Bible isn’t a comforting bookend. The gospel, when grasped, seeps into our every cell. I believe from personal experience that living under grace is far from drab, oppressive, or colorless. It is also the opposite of hateful or judgmental, despite what many have sadly come to believe. Instead I have found that this new life is infinitely more exciting, joyful, loving and open-hearted than the one I lived when I was steering.

In this blog, I want to examine the gospel as it relates to life – not only in Biblical history, but here and now. Far from being irrelevant, I believe the Bible is God’s living word and guides us in areas of career, love, friendship, pain, addiction, and of course, faith. This blog presents the intersection of God’s word and presence with the life of one 28-year-old.

Responses

  1. Good stuff! I’m curious if you have read/studied Bonheffer’s unfinished Ethics. There’s a decent summary at http://www.iep.utm.edu/bonhoeff/. What’s your reaction? Can’t his thinking apply beyond resisting great evils such as Nazism?
    FYI – I was pointed towards your blog by your mother-in-law who exchanges articles and books with me at our church.

  2. Dear Roger,

    Thank you so much for your comment. I found the summary of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics to be fascinating, and I now fully intend to read the whole book. Here are my reactions to the summary. Obviously they are limited for now:

    “Principally he is interested only in those decisions that deal directly with the presence of vicious behavior, and often involve questions of life and death.” –Encyclopedia of Philosophy summary.

    I agree with you that this seems too limiting. If an ethical system only applies to extreme cases, it seems insufficient. Does he discuss only extremes in order to clearly lay out his point, which he implies will apply in more subtle cases? Or does he indicate that anything less than a matter of life and death isn’t actually an ethical matter? I’m curious to know your thoughts, because I couldn’t quite tell his position from the summary.

    I wonder if his focus only on vicious/evil behavior is an attempt to avoid the issue that we are all evil at heart because of our sin, and “no one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). If he defines “evil” as actions that are vicious and extreme such as Naziism, then it is much easier to group people into “righteous” and “evil.” I am concerned by his discussion of character —“What is worse than doing evil,” Bonhoeffer notes, “is being evil” (Ethics, p.67) — because again, if we’re talking character, we are all evil. However, is this just a semantic difference; does Bonhoeffer means evil beyond basic sinfulness? But is it theologically sound to say that everyone is sinful, but some are evil and some are righteous? That seems hypocritical!

    I am fairly certain from other knowledge of Bonhoeffer that he did understand sin. And there are parts of this summary that would indicate that. I love the line, “Before God self-justification is quite simply sin.” (Ethics, page 167). I also enjoyed his critique of “the man or woman of conscience”- that we become overly concerned with easing our consciences, and having things resolved, and that we use that comfort level as a barometer for what is right. I love Bonhoeffer’s implicit point that since we are all sinners, we should never quite be comfortable with our moral state.

    I totally agree with Bonhoeffer that Christ is the cornerstone of ethics. I am greatly intrigued by the thesis statement, “For Bonhoeffer, the foundation of ethical behavior is how the reality of the world and how the reality of God are reconciled in the reality of Christ.” (Ethics, p. 198)

    I would need to read the whole text to understand his meaning here. The summary indicates that sharing in Christ’s reality is to become a “responsible person.” I wonder if the following truths are contained in the thesis: the reality of the world is fallen and sinful; the reality of God is perfect and holy; and the reality of Christ is God in human form, living the perfect life that we were unable to live, so that we could be forgiven and reconciled with God, receive the Holy Spirit, and allow God to work good through us. Christ is certainly our moral guide in that we can look to his life as an example. However, I think that Bonhoeffer’s description of what it looks like to follow Christ successfully, is greatly unrealistic given our sin:

    “First and foremost, your action can in no way be intended to reflect back on you, your character, or your reputation. You must, for the sake of the moment, unreservedly surrender all self-directed wishes and desires (Ethics, p.232). It is the other, another person, that is the focus of attention, and not yourself. In ethical action, the left hand really must be unaware of what the right hand is doing if the right hand is to do anything ethical. If not, your so-called good action becomes contaminated and its moral nature altered.”- Encyclopedia summary.

    This is impossible! Our motivations are always corrupt because of our sin! Again, though, I wonder: is Bonhoeffer laying out the ideal, while assuming that we all fall short of it, or does he assume that this is an attainable goal?

    What I find lacking in this explanation (and again, forgive me if it is explained in the book), is the role of the Holy Spirit. Once we recognize our utter sinfulness and inadequacy—some would say our evil character—and fall at Christ’s feet, that is when we are taken into the kingdom and called to do God’s work in the world. Without Christ’s forgiveness, our attempts at “doing good” would only be a joke, an offering of tasteless crumbs before a perfectly Holy God. And without the Holy Spirit, we don’t stand a chance of becoming the slightest bit godly. Anything good in us is from God. To take credit, or to call ourselves “righteous” —if we don’t mean righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice—is insulting to Jesus, because it implies that Jesus didn’t need to die for us. When Bonhoeffer says that the model of Jesus of Nazareth is our moral guide, he implies that Jesus’ life is enough. Yet we are still totally lost without Jesus’ death and resurrection.

    • Actually I have not read the book myself yet – just snippets. I have the Touchstone paperback which is base on the 6th German edition. It begins with “The Love of God and the Decay of the World.” “The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge.” That certainly is a shot across the bow!

      My initial impression is that the conclusion of the Encyclopedia summary that this book deals just with action in the face extremely vicious behavior is an extrapolation of the environment in which Bonhoeffer wrote this book, during the period of his involvement in the attempted overthrow of the Nazis. Certainly the first chapter quoted above deals with fundamental issues about man’s relationship with God. For example, the desire to know good and evil is linked to our original sin.(Genesis 2:17 “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”)

      I too am eager to find references to the role of the Holy Spirit. When we face difficult decisions I think we must in prayer empty ourselves of our own will and look to the Holy Spirit for the path we must take. Let me know if you find particularly useful passages and I will do the same.

  3. I agree entirely with the comments on the Holy Spirit, and the question of Bonhoeffer’s acknowledgement of it. I have not read his Ethics, but I struggled a lot in reading “The Cost of Discipleship”, in which he lays out a vision of discipleship in terms of such hyperbole that it seems an impossible standard to follow (or even attempt). While I believe in a serious process of growth under Christ’s lordship (with immense help from the Holy Spirit!), I felt Bonhoeffer often failed to acknowledge our sinfulness after conversion. As Martin Luther famously put it, “Simul Iustus et Peccator” (at once justified and a sinner).

    I am told by friends that Bonhoeffer was a fan of hyperbole and we are to take his extremism with a grain of salt. After all, as you mentioned above, he lived and wrote in an exceptionally black & white time, and his writing needs to be understood in this context.

  4. Okay – I’ve found a couple supportive (and for once comprehensible) passages from the chapter “The Love of God and the Decay of the World”
    “The will of God is not a system of rules which is established from the outset; it is something new and different in each situation in life, and for this reason a man must ever anew examine what the will of God may be”…
    “But when all this has been said it is still necessary really to examine what is the will of God, what is rightful in a given situation, what course is truly pleasing to God; for, after all, there have to be concrete life and action. Intellignece, discernment, attentive observation of the given facts, all these now come into lively operation, all will be embraced and pervaded by prayer….Direct inspirations must in no case be heeded or expected, for this could all too easily lead to a man’s abandoning himself to self -deception.”…
    “The Christian cannot now indeed examine himself in any other way than on the basis of this possibility whuch is decisive for him, the possibility that Jesus Christ has entered into his life, nay more than that, that Jesus Christ lives for him and in him, and that Jesus Christ occupies within him exactly the space which was previously occupied by his own knowledge of good and evil. Christian self-proving is possible only on the basis of this foreknowledge that Jesus Christ is within us…”
    For the most part though my experience of trying to read Bonhoeffer is similar to what Thomas Edison said about inventing: 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration

    • What a great passage! That’s the Bonhoeffer I remember that I identified with in Life Together. Sometimes I feel like he is putting into words what I have always felt.

  5. you said it! For a (former?) Lutheran, I have been disappointed to find Bonhoeffer so obtuse.

  6. Very interesting paragraphs. Our copy of the book has just arrived. I’ll definitely post some passages as soon as I start reading!

  7. Great post. Made me think of this: “Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace.”


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