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Bonhoeffer on Love


They’re talking about love at Inhabitatio Dei, from Bonhoeffer. I have a great of respect for Bonhoeffer, living as he did, through dark times, admitting that darkness was there and offering a faithful alternative to overcoming it through Christ. I admit that I have not spent a lot of time in more purely theological or philosophical pursuits. I mostly deal with historical and biblical questions. But this I could not pass up, I found it extremely moving and relevant in my own life and relationships.

In the self-centered community there exists a profound, elemental emotional desire for community, for immediate contact with other human souls, just as in the flesh there is a yearning from immediate union with other flesh. This desire of the human soul seeks the complete intimate fusion of I and You, whether this occurs in the union of love or — what from this self-centered perspective is after all the same thing — in forcing the other into one’s own sphere of power and influence. Bonhoeffer

I find that in relationships I can falter into this way of thinking. Being with someone is having a certain degree of power over them. For them to fulfill me. Of course this is not at all in line with the attitude and life of Christ, it rather exemplifies our fallen nature.

Because Christ stands between me and an other, I must not long for unmediated community with that person. As only Christ was able to speak to me in such a way that I was helped, so others too can only be helped by Christ alone. However, this means that I must release others from all my attempts to control, coerce, and dominate them with my love. In their freedom from me, other persons want to be loved for who they are, as those for whom Christ became a human being, died, and rose again, as those from whom Christ won the forgiveness of sins and prepared eternal life. Bonhoeffer

If Christ is the one who comes to those who are lost, the true head of the Church, the one behind the Spirit working in the world – then today Christ is the one who shows people the way, however much of a servant you or I might be in the situation. Since it is God’s sovereign rule that will bring in the Kingdom, it is his job to put together whatever good works you and I might do. But our good works do not include controlling people through our relationships with them. We are focused here on the specifics of a romantic relationship – but it applies just as well to relationships within the Church. There is no way that we can dominate one another and glorify God and Christ. That would be the anti-Gospel.

The longing to be completed through immediate contact with another is the reigning mythos of romance in our age. It is the object of voracious, often violent pursuit at all costs, and as Bonhoeffer points out, “Emotional, self-centered love cannot tolerate the dissolution of a community that has become false, even for the sake of genuine community.” The hallmark of the love of our age is that we cannot bear to see it fail (or rather, not succeed in the way we want). ’Love conquers all’ has become a sentimental maxim that really just means no one should ever break up with me. The kind of love that animates our romantic imaginations today, as Bonhoeffer says, “is by its very nature desire, desire for self-centered community. As long as it can possibly satisfy this desire, it will not give it up, even for the sake of truth, even for the sake of genuine love for others.” This describes how I have gone after romance in my life if anything does. And I suspect that I’m not alone in this.

May we all realize how this has impacted us in our lives.


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