“We hold fast in faith to God’s greatest gift, that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all. This makes us joyful and happy, but it also makes us ready to forgo all such experiences if at times God does not grant them. We are bound together by faith, not by experience.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 21.
Being “bound together by faith” is, I think, the spiritual community that Bonhoeffer has been writing of in this chapter; I wish he had continued to use the term to eliminate ambiguity just as I wish he had continued with the term emotional community; I take his use of the term “experience” in the last part of this chapter as being the same as his term emotional community.
Bonhoeffer is an example of another reason why God’s people can be “ready to forgo all such experiences if at times God does not grant them”, and that is for the sake of others – in the realization “that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all.” While there is a spiritual reality in the heavens in Christ that constitutes our “firm and certain faith” (page 21), we are called to walk out that firm and certain faith in this world, in the community of faith, for the sake of those called to know Jesus Christ.
Paul writes toward the end of his life, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake for those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory,” (2 Timothy 2:10). There is mission outside the community; there is also mission inside the community. We suffer in bringing the Gospel to the nations; we suffer in bringing the community of faith unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13); both within and without the Christian community we are called to suffer for others (see 2 Corinthians for the former and Acts for the latter). Bonhoeffer writes Life Together for the sake of the Christian community; Bonhoeffer’s life and suffering has been increasingly devoted to the church and to the world – he is suffering for those within and without, he is suffering on the basis of the spiritual reality in Christ in order to bring others into that reality.
But this is more than an outward obedience to the call of God in Christ, and this is more than an obedience based on “seeing” invisible realities in Christ; this is an obedience born of love, love for those within and without the community. The love for those without the community is a love that desires to bring them within the community, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
The love of God that gave His only begotten Son is the love of God that continues to give his sons and daughters to the world so that the world may believe in the only begotten Son; the brothers and sisters are continually given to the world so that the world may believe in their Elder Brother, the One who is the “firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). God gives, then He gives again, then He gives again, and God keeps on giving. To be sure there is no gift as that first Gift, and all subsequent gifts point to the One who is the first Gift, and all subsequent gifts are expressions of the first Gift, just as all the brothers and sisters of Romans 8:29 are to be conformed to the image of the Firstborn.
When we refuse to witness we refuse to be God’s gifts. When we refuse to witness we refuse to be God’s expressions of love to the world, and most particularly to those around us. If we are going to preach or teach or recite John 3:16 we ought to ask ourselves whether we are the incarnation of the giving of God; are we the incarnation of the Incarnation? Is the Incarnation expanding through us and in us? Is God’s love for the world our love for the world?
In the next post I’ll come back to love within the community…