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).

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Resurrection, the Creator and the Creature

The act of resurrection can be considered with reference to both God the Creator and the human creature.

On the part of God the Creator, the act of resurrection is the Creator’s final judgment in the positive, his vindication of the creature over against the curse of death. Resurrection is also, in this way, the victory of the Creator over the power of sin and death in his human creatures in that it is the final restoring and perfecting of human creaturely life. God’s subsequent continual, beatifying presence to the creature is, in his economy, his act of preserving resurrected humanity against any relapse into sin, evil and a renewed death. Resurrection, thus, is the Creator’s definitive refusal to abandon his creature and his decisive affirmation of the human life he has made.

On the part of human creaturely life, resurrection is recomposition, restitution and perfection. The resurrected life is the soul restored to the body, and thus the human being rendered once again whole and entire, as God first created and intended it. This state, however, is not simply a reconstitution of created human being as in Eden, but also its restitution and perfection: a final restitution from a fallen state of spiritual sinfulness and bodily decomposition and a perfecting of its physical, moral and spiritual capacities in ways that are now only partially visible to us.

In this way, the theology of resurrection bears importance for both the doctrine of God, divine goodness and power, and Christian teaching regarding human being, its final state and end.

Von Balthasar on “God is Love”

John famously wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). What a beautiful and sweet truth this is. But we would not know that God is love unless he had given us his Son. John goes on to write, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (4:9-10).

For von Balthasar, this love explains the “care” that is evident in the creation. He writes, “Only love can explain this care; only love can explain the pledge he gives, guaranteeing the integrity of creation” (Theo-Drama, vol. 3, 518). And so, in the sending of his Son Jesus, the love that is revealed there is nothing other–though how infinitely more!–than what was already shown with the creation: “Thus the acceptance of his [Jesus’] mission, its implementation in obedience right up to its bloody end, cannot be anything other than the revelation of the Father’s primal, absolute love for his creatures” (ibid.).

This does not, however, mean that we are simply able to read the height of this divine love off the page of creation. The Son’s self-sacrifice at the behest of the Father is ingrained into the very fabric of creation. It was taken into account, so to speak, when God undertook to freely create the world. So von Balthasar: “[I]n view of God’s foreknowledge of what is to become of it, the world cannot be created without account being taken of this sending of the ‘beloved Son’. . . [Jesus’] readiness to accept the mission cannot have been elicited from him by persuasion, as it were; rather, it must be in him a priori, he must spontaneously have declared his readiness ‘before the foundation of the world’ [Rev. 13:8]” (516).

So in Jesus we see the love of the vineyard owner, who “had one left to send, a son, whom he loved” (Mark 12). His Father “takes the risk of sending him … to the murderers who killed all his previous messengers. . . By ‘not sparing’ his Son (Rom 8:32), by letting him be taken, by actually surrendering him…–because he foresees what they will do to him–the divine Sender manifests a disposition that, both in sublimity and in lowliness, is expressed in the serenity and surrender of his Ambassador” (515-516). Jesus, thus, on this earthly side of the mission of salvation, manifests the “serenity and surrender” that corresponds to the care of the Father, the vineyard’s caretaker.

And on this, everything depends: “What is at stake here is salvation (a total salvation that embraces the whole of existence and the world) or the forfeiting of it. . . What is at stake is his care for his vineyard … his care for the entire world created by God” (516). And in this care, the care that leads to the head of the hill called Golgotha, the meaning of all being is shown to be love.