Bonhoeffer and Guilt

I found this post over at First Things very interesting:

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2012/12/bonhoefferrsquos-argument-against-religious-blackmail

‘Too often we Christians are heard as saying something along the following lines: “Your life of casual sex (or cohabitation, or homosexuality) surely must be leading you to feel empty, unfulfilled, and jaded. But we have the solution for those unpleasant feelings!” To which the reply is often: “I’m sorry to disappoint, but I don’t feel excessively guilty or ashamed or unfulfilled. On the contrary, my gay partnership has given me more emotional peace than I’ve ever had.”

In other words, we Christians are often found making Stendahl’s mistake: in our rush to defend our understanding of sin and human flourishing, we too easily assume that the same emotions must be the universal human result of certain behavioral choices. When those expected emotions aren’t present—when Paul, for instance, feels no guilt after persecuting the early Christians—we’re suddenly left wondering what went wrong with our doctrine of sin.

I submit that Bonhoeffer may provide us with a way out of this conundrum. Avoiding what he calls “an attack on the adulthood of the world,” we may realize that it isn’t part of our Christian calling to first expose (or conjure) guilty feelings before we commend, say, a traditional Christian vision of marriage. Rather, we can simply acknowledge that human emotions are unpredictable; “peace” and “fulfillment” may indeed be the outcome of practices and behaviors that, from a Christian vantage point, we must deem sinful. But no matter. The gospel lays claim to the whole human being in the midst of that “peace.” Here in Advent, we remember the One who told us he did not come to bring peace (Matt. 10:34). He came to demand our all—to ask for our death and our life. No matter how robust our consciences may be, he came to save us all.’

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Bonhoeffer on the Conscience

‘This flight, Adam’s hiding from God, we call conscience. Before the fall there was no conscience. Man has only been divided in himself since his division from the Creator. And indeed it is the function of the conscience to put man to flight from God. Thus, unwillingly, it agrees with God, and on the other hand in this flight it allows man to feel secure on his hiding place. This means that it deludes man into feeling that he really is fleeing. Moreover it allows him to believe that this flight is his triumphal procession and all the world is fleeing from him. Conscience drives man from God into a secure hiding place. Here, distant from God, man plays the judge himself and just by this means he escapes God’s judgement. Now man really lives by his own good and evil, from the innermost division within himself. Conscience is shame before God in which at the same time our own wickedness is concealed, in which man justifies himself and in which, on the other hand, the acknowledgement of the other person is reluctantly preserved. Conscience is not the voice of God to sinful man; it is man’s defense against it, but as this defense it points towards it, contrary to our own will and knowledge.

Adam, where are you?” With this word the creator calls Adam forth out of his conscience, Adam must stand before his Creator. Man is not allowed to remain in his sin alone, God speaks to him, he stops him in his flight. ‘Come out of your hiding-place, from your self-reproach, your covering, your secrecy, your self-torment, from your vain remorse…confess to yourself, do not lose yourself in religious despair, be yourself, Adam…where are you? Stand before your creator.” This call goes directly against the conscience, for the conscience says: ‘Adam, you are naked, hide yourself from the Creator  do not dare stand before him.” God says: “Adam, stand before me.” God kills the conscience. The fleeing Adam must realize that he cannot flee from his Creator.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘Creation and Fall/Temptation: Two Biblical Studies’, p. 90-91)