Bonhoeffer on the Laws of Creation

In reflecting on the claims of Christian ethics on secular institutions, Bonhoeffer has recourse to the universal Lordship of Christ, which is grounded not only in his creation of all that is, but also in his redemption of all that is. This means that all things find their true meaning and “innate law” in obedience to Christ:

In the proclamation of the dominion of Christ over secular institutions these institutions are not made subject to an alien rule, for “he came unto his own” (John 1.11) and “by him all things consist” (Col. 1.17). [….] Under the dominion of Christ they attain to their own true character and become subject to their own innate law, which is theirs according to the manner of their creation. Nor, on the other hand, are they made subject to the arbitrary rule of a so-called autonomy which is fundamentally nothing but lawlessness, ἀνομία, and sin, but within the world which is created, love and reconciled by God in Christ they receive the place which is characteristic, proper and right for them. Thus under the dominion of Christ they receive their own law and their own liberty. (Ethics, p.323)

It is remarkable how much such a view has in common with the Dutch neo-Calvinism of a Kuyper or Dooyeweerd. All things, including, for Bonhoeffer, especially the four “mandates” of Church, family, government and labour, become properly themselves in obedience to the divine commandment contained within the proclamation of Christ. They do not become something foreign, such that they should be called a “Christian family,” “Christian government” or “Christian labour,” but simply family as it should be, government as it should be, labour as it should be and was created to be by Christ “in whom all things hang together” (Col. 1:17).

Readiness, Poverty and Jesus’ Return

Let’s talk about this kerfuffle. Apparently Jesus was supposed to return today, according to the Bible–well, that and some inventiveness and poor math skills. We could be done with this by simply quoting Jesus’ own words, such as, “But about that day or hour no one knows” (Matt. 24:36), or “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him” (Matt. 24:50). But let’s make this an occasion for some fruitful reflection, because I think that the reactions of both sides show us something.

In a way, we’ve already dealt with the first side, the side ready to believe that if you get your math straight, you can pinpoint when Jesus is going to return, because the Bible is after all an elaborate code book. This side should take some time to meditate on Matt. 24-25. But the other side, the side which is all too ready to ridicule the first side–I have to include myself here–should be careful not to fall into an opposite error, an error more pernicious because it is more respectable: going about life as if Jesus certainly won’t return on May 21st, 2011. (Even though as I write this it’s already May 22nd in Britain.) This may just be a failure of readiness.

If there’s a lesson we should take from this, it’s what is contained in the first word of Jesus’ address in Matt. 24-25, “Watch!” (Although the verb is just that for “look!” or “see!” Blepō. Maybe “keep your eyes open!” would do.) This idea shows up all over this discourse: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (24:42; here “keep watch” is a different verb which means just that). “So you also must be ready” (24:44). “Therefore keep watch” (25:13).

The question that interests me is whether we are a people who are “ready,” a people who “watch.” And further, whether the kinds of lives we live disable our readiness. Let’s take a detour. A few chapters earlier, Jesus tells his disciples that “others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven” (19:12). How does someone remain single–“celibacy” is the fancy term–“because” of the kingdom of heaven? Because it is a sign, an image of what that kingdom will be like. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (20:34-35). Those few God calls to celibacy now look odd just because they’re ahead of their time: they are living how we all will when the kingdom comes.

In the same way, voluntary poverty is a sign of the kingdom of God. Paul writes, “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who… buy something, should live as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:29-31). For this reason, Paul could consider it all “crap” in comparison to knowing Jesus and his resurrection power (Phil. 3:8; a gentle translation of the word here). Because living in poverty is a sign of what the kingdom will be like, as odd as it looks now. What need will there be to buy and sell when we will already possess Everything we desire?

I fear that a Church which cannot be poor, a Church which shares the same affections as the world cannot see that this world is being gotten rid of in order for a new world to be born. Isn’t this half the point of the parable Jesus uses to close his discourse in Matt. 24-25? “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Hauerwas on the Mentally Disabled

I’ve been reading through Hauerwas’ memoirs, Hannah’s Child, and came upon this shattering passage:

What an experience it was for me to become part of the world of the mentally disabled. That world, as I suspect it should have, frightened me. I shall never forget the first time I was given a tour of the center [the Logan Center for schooling the mentally disabled]. A seven-year-old boy who had Down syndrome jumped in my arms and hugged me. He was too close, right in my face, and would not let go. I carried him as we continued the tour. I had to act like everything was just “fine,” but really I was terrified. I soon began to think that learning to live with the mentally disabled might be paradigmatic for learning what it might mean to face God. (112)

Pope Writes to the Catholics of Ireland

My pastor this morning spoke of the God of new beginnings. The Catholic Church in Ireland certainly needs such a new beginning. The unequivocal condemnation of child abuse is prominent in the Pope’s Friday letter to the Catholics there. Priests who are guilty of this crime “must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals” (§7). To begin the healing process, “the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children” (§2). It is reminiscient of Paul’s judgment: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate… And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?… With such persons do not even eat” (1 Cor. 5:1-2, 11).

Yet, the future is not utterly bleak. In equal measure with condemnation, the Pope speaks of hope for “the rebuilding and renewal of our beloved Church” (§9). The Pope speaks with deep compassion, having met with many victims of sexual abuse in the Church: “I have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them” (§5). He prays that they do not despair:

At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, he still bears the wounds of his own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church. I know some of you find it difficult even to enter the doors of a church after all that has occurred. Yet Christ’s own wounds, transformed by his redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. I believe deeply in the healing power of his self-sacrificing love – even in the darkest and most hopeless situations – to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning. (§6)

I hope and pray too the Church in Ireland can emerge from its darkest and most hopeless situation. You can find the full text of the Pope’s letter here.

Ash Wednesday and Guantánamo

Over at Waging Nonviolence, there is a deeply challenging reflection on what the ashes of Lent mean for our response to political injustices such as the indefinite detainment and maltreatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

Hauerwas on Obama’s Nobel Speech

Hauerwas writes a brief response to Obama’s speech here, where he enunciates once again the importance of maintaining our language about war. What, he asks, lets us know a war is a war? Particularly to proponents of “just war” theory, who list a number of criteria that make a war apparently “just,” Hauerwas asks what a war that fails to meet these criteria would be? Would one still call it war? For instance, one of the just war criteria is that it must be declared by legitimate authority. What if a guerrilla group or terrorist organization declared “war” on a certain country? Would one call this war? Another criterion is that the declared intention of a war must not be different than the actual intention. A country, that is, cannot declare a war looking for weapons of mass destruction, but actually be looking for oil. But then, if this is no longer a war, what is it? A point Hauerwas makes elsewhere, but only alludes to here in his reference to Cain and Abel, is that Christians ought to maintain our language of war as murder. If we fail to name war properly, that is, as murder, then we may lose the resources to see when the wool is being pulled over our eyes with the language of a “necessary war.” Because for those who live by the flesh and blood of one who would not take up arms, the one thing necessary is the peace that is given through the cross.

Catholic Catechism on Married Love

Catholics have a lot of things going for them. Sometimes they even say really beautiful things, like this bit from the Catechism, the authoritative book of Catholic teaching:

It can seem difficult, even impossible, to bind oneself for life to another human being. This makes it all the more important to proclaim the Good News that God loves us with a definitive and irrevocable love, that married couples share in this love, that it supports and sustains them, and that by their own faithfulness they can be witnesses to God’s faithful love. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1648)