In his book, Ethics, the late Dietrich Bonhoeffer outlines a revolutionary theological paradigm that challenges many of the dichotomies perpetuated by traditional Christian teachings. Two of these dichotomies – Good versus Evil and God’s World versus Satan’s World – he neatly dismantles through page after page of relentless logic. In the following few journal entries, I toy with some of the profound implications of his thinking:
January 24, 2016 (Timu):
For my morning reading, I dipped back into Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, this time in the chapter on “Christ, Reality, and Good.” Brilliantly, he begins by declaring irrelevant the questions “How can I be good?” and “How can I do good?” as a foundation for ethics. The only question, he says, is “What is the will of God?” This, because the concept of ‘goodness’ apart from God (revealed in Jesus Christ) is a mere abstraction. What is good is what is real, and what is real is that which is brought into existence by the Word of God, bearing the Will of God. Therefore, what is ‘good’ is whatever God’s will dictates.
He writes: “The apprehension of this reality [of God] is not merely a gradual advance towards the discovery of ever more profound realities; it is the crucial turning point in the apprehension of reality as a whole. The ultimate reality now shows itself to be at the same time the initial reality, alpha and omega. Any perception or apprehension of things or laws without Him [the λóγος] is now abstraction, detachment from origin and goal.”
Therefore, ethics, according to Bonhoeffer, should be about interpreting and cooperating with Reality, which is the Good, which is the self-revelation of God through recognizable forms – through the LOGOS. What is ‘good’ is what is ‘real’, and what is ‘real’ includes what we humans so often divide into categories like ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Thus, in this paradigm, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are both GOOD insofar as they are expressions of Reality.
Bonhoeffer’s section in Ethics called “Thinking in terms of two spheres” offers a brilliant testimony of the ultimate invalidity of dichotomous thinking about the world:
“So long as Christ and the world are conceived as two opposing and mutually repellent spheres, man will be left in the following dilemma: he abandons reality as a whole, and places himself in one or other of the two spheres. He seeks Christ without the world, or he seeks the world without Christ…There are not two realities, but only one reality, and that is the reality of God, which has become manifest in Christ in the reality of the world. Sharing in Christ we stand at once in both the reality of God and the reality of the world…
“Thought which is conducted in terms of two spheres regards such pairs of concepts as secular and Christian, natural and supernatural, profane and sacred, and rational and revelational, as though they were ultimate static anti-theses, serving to designate certain mutually exclusive entities. It fails to recognize the original unity of these opposites in the reality of Christ….”
Christ, the ΛΟΓΟΣ: the source of original unity.
Christ, the nexus of God and the World.
“In Jesus Christ,” writes Bonhoeffer, “the reality of God entered into the reality of this world. The place where the answer is given, both to the question concerning the reality of God and to the question concerning the reality of the world, is designated solely and alone by the name Jesus Christ. God and the world are comprised in this name. All concepts of reality which do not take account of Him are abstractions….
“In Christ we are offered the possibility of partaking in the reality of God and in the reality of the world, but not in the one without the other. The reality of God discloses itself only by setting me entirely in the reality of the world, and when I encounter the reality of the world, it is always already sustained, accepted and reconciled in the reality of God.”
Bonhoeffer, same section, laying it down, now about how even the evil, ‘disordered’ world is found in Christ:
“The world is not divided between Christ and the devil, but, whether it recognizes it or not, it is solely and entirely the world of Christ. The world is to be called to this, its reality in Christ…The dark and evil world must not be abandoned to the devil. It must be claimed for Him who has won it by His incarnation, His death and His resurrection.”
Yes! In this I see my vocation: to demonstrate through reasonable arguments that ALL is in Christ and Christ in ALL. Everything belongs to Him, yet much has not been claimed…The more our collective knowledge grows, the more the lordship of the LOGOS needs to be extended (in terms of human acknowledgement). That is, ontologically, all things are already in Christ, whereas epistemologically, much still lies outside his realm. Bringing in the ‘lost sheep’ here applies not to single souls but to domains of our human existence heretofore often assumed to be under the control of the devil: entertainment, eroticism, evolutionary science, politics, business, the arts, religious diversity, etc., etc. We must bring these elements into the fold.