Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Love of God

Yes, my little Bonhoeffer-fest continues again today. I really intend to stop somewhere short of quoting the entire book, but this is too good to just leave on the turned page.
Ecce homo! -- Behold the God who has become man, the unfathomable mystery of the love of God for the world. God loves man. God loves the world. It is not an ideal man that He loves, but man as he is; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find abominable in man's opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, the real man, the real world, this is for God the ground for unfathomable love, and it is with this that He unites Himself utterly. God becomes man, real man. While we are trying to grow out beyond our manhood, to leave the man behind us, God becomes man and we have to recognize that God wishes us men, too, to be real men. While we are distinguishing the pious from the ungodly, the good from the wicked, the noble from the mean, God makes no distinction at all in His love for the real man.
Leave it to a Lutheran to preach the Gospel in a book on ethics!

I read this quote to my wife. She said she liked it. Then I said, "Now apply that to yourself." That's always the hard part. (Please note that I had this exchange with my wife because it was less embarassing than having the same exchange with myself.)

We can appreciate a fresh or clever statement of the Gospel on an intellectual level. We can enjoy hearing the radical nature of God's love. But do we believe it? Do we really believe it? Sure, God loves real people, particular people. But this is still an abstract statement. God loves me. Even this I believe, but if I'm honest about it, I'd probably have to admit that what I really mean is that God will love me once I've been cleaned up a bit. I once read that on the front of his famous sermon "You Are Accepted" Paul Tillich wrote the words "for myself." That's comforting. It's not just me.

This is why Bonhoeffer's inclusion of the world in this passage helps. God loves the world. We don't live under any illusion that the world will clean up it's act someday soon. And yet, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.

Even if we imagine God's love for the world to be like someone who finds a tattered antique at a flea market and buys it knowing that it can be restored and made beautiful again, we must face the profound truth of Bonhoeffer's insight. A collector doesn't buy a pot-bellied stove at a flea market so she can turn it into a microwave oven. It's the pot-bellied stove she wants and any restoration is simply to make it more perfectly into what it already is.

But our friend Dietrich had a further insight to offer along these lines. The passage above appears in a chapter on ethics as formation. Not formation in the sense of learning to imitate some ideal standard, but formation as transformation into the form of Christ. He spoke of the form of Christ acting on us and in us and transforming us into this form. And it was sounding an awful lot like the Orthodox doctrine of theosis.

But then he put an astounding spin on St. Athansius' famous quotation. Whereas Athanasius had said, "God became man so that man might become God," Bonhoeffer says, "Man becomes man because God became man."

Behold the wondrous love of God. A selfish love seeks to consume, to assimilate, that which is loves. But God gives Godself to us, not that we may become what God is, but that God may share with us in what we are.

2 comments:

LutheranChik said...

I am having a real "aha" moment right now, Mel...you have provided me with the perfect quotation for another conversation.;-) I love it when that happens.

*Christopher said...

Oh, this is so good. Of course, so that we can become who we are. That G-d says to us vivit! live! and we are invited to actually be human...

This is fabulous.