“First of all, it is the freedom of the other, mentioned earlier, that is a burden to Christians.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 78.
We want to make others into our own image, if we can do that then we need not bear with them for they will be like us – no doubt perfect…but perhaps never perfect enough, others will always need us to make them more perfectly perfect. If only others appreciated our efforts!
“But when Christians allow God to create God’s own image in others, they allow others their own freedom (page 78).” This “freedom” is a burden; the nearer the other person’s likes and dislikes to our own, the nearer the other person’s opinions and passions – the less of a burden; but as distance grows then burden grows. As Bonhoeffer notes, we have individuality, talent, weaknesses, peculiarities – these all can try our patience and lead to conflict. Jesus Christ must transcend these differences and preferences, the reality of who Christ is in us and who we are in Christ must be affirmed as we guard the unity of the Body and Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). It is no great thing to experience and affirm unity when we are similar in appearance, custom, speech, and action; we don’t need the grace of God to get along with those with whom we have natural affinity and comfort. There is no “higher good” or transcendent vision when such people gather together, they need not sublimate their own agendas and preferences – there is no need to for they all are in basic agreement in speech and practice – they have all decided to part their hair to the right or left or down the middle, they all agree to stand up and sit down seven times in each worship gathering.
Are we willing to not only tolerate “the reality of the other’s creation by God,” but are we willing and committed to “affirming it, and in bearing with it, [and] breaking through to delight in it” (page 79)? This requires, I think, not only a Biblical understanding of the image of God, but a commitment to time together, to listening, to praying, and to confessing. To know one another we must serve one another; we must wash one another’s feet.
We may talk about the church being a body with many members, but we live as if all the members must be the same; all hands, all feet, all brains, all hearts. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians Chapters 12 – 14, common sense tells us that a body isn’t like this, common sense also tells us that we need all the parts of the body; and yet we seldom live like this. More often than not we live as if we were the head of the body, individually and collectively; we live as if we were the heart of the body; we live as if the body is to serve us. In other words, we live as if we were the sun of the solar system and that all the planets should be viewed in relation to ourselves. Individuals can be like this in local congregations; local congregations can be like this in their denominations and traditions; and denominations usually are like this in relation to the universal Church of Jesus Christ. We measure others by ourselves and we give others freedom when they live and speak within our image, and we deny them freedom when they do not conform to our image.
Relationship is work, bearing with one another is work. We want the easy way. We want God to sprinkle holy fairy dust on other disciples and make them like us. We want Him to speed up the process of time so that we need not invest time in others. We want others to be given spiritual insight so that when they see us (individually or our traditions and denominations) that they will recognize that they see the embodiment of Divine truth and practice.
It is a grand and wonderful thing to be called out of death as Lazarus was, but unless the grave clothes are removed our lives are bound.
When we break through barriers to others, we break out of ourselves.