Gems from Bonhoeffer

Community

Bonhoeffer describes something very profound when he speaks of two kinds of communities – human and spiritual. Two different kinds of love that are operational in each – human and divine/spiritual. Christian brotherhood is not an ideal but a reality created by God in which we participate. True Christian community is Spirit-wrought and grounded in Christ, where the Word of God alone rules. It is a community where human love is not the ultimate; truth governs and guides it. The Spirit governs instead of psychological techniques and methods (32). Spiritual love is for Christ’s sake, while human love for man’s (34). Spiritual loves serves Christ alone, and has no immediate access to other persons (35). Feelings and actions alone are sufficient according to human love, while Spiritual loves is motivated by love for Christ and taught to love by Christ. Spiritual love serves and does not desire. Spiritual love is from above. Understanding the differences can make or break Christian community (37).

Intercession for others

Spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ (38). We love little when we fail to pray. As part of living in a divine community, it is not uncommon for personal tension, estrangement and other breaches to arise. Bonhoeffer prescribes the “purifying bath” of intercessory prayer to entered into every day. This prayer involves bringing the person before God and asking him to deal according to his severity and goodness. It is to apply the Gospel in a similar manner that we apply it to our own souls – seeing that person as a poor sinner before the Cross of Christ.

Reading the Psalms

The Psalms is the prayer book of Christ (46). The man Christ who had experienced the full range of human emotions prayed the Psalms. We can handle the imprecatory Psalms only by seeing them as prayers of Christ. We pray the Psalms as Christ’s prayers; this adds a new level of depth to prayer. Bonhoeffer refers to them as the “vicarious prayer of Christ for his Church”. What does this mean practically for the Church? Because we are united to Christ in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, as we pray these prayers in Him we grow into the full meaning of the Psalms gradually. The Psalms also belong to the whole community and cannot be purely individual, for one individual alone cannot comprehend its breadth.

Humility

“Never think that thou hast made any progress till thou look upon thyself as inferior to all” (Thomas a Kempis). Unless a man learns to see himself as the chief of sinners, and his sinfulness larger than that of those around him, he does not really see his sinfulness. This is possible because we have an unique intimate acquaintance with our sinfulness. To serve others well we must sink down to such depths of humility in seeing oneself worse than others with regard to sin. Then there is hope for humble and non-hypocritical service.

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