Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bonhoeffer on Life and Death

Whenever Christ calls us, he leads us to death.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

War and homosexuality arose in our fellowship last week. My point was that yes, indeed, it is apostasy to give hearty approval to sexual perversion, which homosexuality is, but when Paul talks about it, the ground of his teaching is how God has washed and set apart to himself homosexuals, extortioners, immoral people, murderers, and such like. So if that's not happening in your church, if homosexuals are not coming and finding real freedom along with these others, then you and your church need to shut up about this until they do.

And if it's not OK to give hearty approval to homosexuality, it's not OK to give hearty approval to aggression and the robbery, domination, and murder of other people so that we can be good friends of this world. That's at least as contrary to the Bible as the other - everyone agrees that Hitler's aggressions and mass murders were a more serious matter than his homosexuality, which no one even cares about in comparison, not even Dobson, Robertson, or Falwell.

Christians read in 2 John 10-11 the following: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds."

Accordingly, they won't let a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness in their house because they're wrong about the doctrine of the Trinity and some other things like that. But they send greetings and encouragement to American soldiers who are wantonly killing thousands of people and subjecting millions of others to a regime of daily terror that they sure wouldn't want in their neighborhoods. In giving them such encouragement - totally contrary to how Jesus said to do to others as we want done to ourselves - they certainly become partakers in their evil deeds. Talk about straining out gnats and swallowing camels!

In truth, it's fine to invite the Mormon or JW into your house and share the word of truth with them, agreeing where we can and disagreeing otherwise in mercy and truth. And it is certainly right to show kindness to soldiers, just as Jesus did to Roman soldiers in his day, but in such a way that does not encourage them in the evil work they have been sent to do. If I were in Baghdad, I would not hesitate to hand one of the occupiers my cell phone to call home, but he wouldn't think I was praising his activities, which bring bloodguilt on me and every other American citizen.

It's just essential not to make people feel good about doing evil, because "a flattering tongue works ruin." In Acts 12 we read that 16 soldiers were guarding Peter so that Herod could lead him to execution after Passover. The angel of the Lord rescued Peter and Herod "examined the guards and ordered that they be led away." That "examination" may well be imagined. Being good soldiers and obeying orders did not save them; it destroyed them. Jesus did not send us into the world to teach men to blindly follow orders like them, thereby making us guilty of their blood.

The Bible does give us some models. For instance, Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army, and when he was healed by Elisha, he became a worshipper of God and pleaded with Elisha about his situation. So when he had to go to war against Israel, God rescued him in a remarkable way from doing evil, causing his entire army to be captured with no one's death and then sent home, ending the war (2 Kings 6:8-23).

It costs a lot for soldiers in a war of aggression not to participate, especially if they have no other skills. But it's hard for a prostitute to walk away from that life, and yet that's the death Jesus calls her to. Christians all agree, don't they? And it's a big thing to tell a homosexual to walk away from his lover of 20 years, isn't it? How then can we tell him to do that while we agree that it's OK for the soldier to keep on terrorizing and dominating other people made in God's image just like us?

Bonhoeffer is right. Jesus always calls us to our death - the prostitute, the homosexual, and the soldier in the imperial army too.

And he calls to our death anyone who speaks such truth. How can I tell the prostitute to walk away from that life if I'm not ready to help her do so? That will cost me. How can I call the homosexual out of that life if I'm not ready to offer him a better and truer one. That will cost me too. And how can I call American Christians out of their commitment to militarism and bloodshed, their religion of human sacrifice, without it costing me? I don't know how to talk to these people without being impatient and needlessly rough. I can't say it's OK; I can't pretend it's no big deal. God just does not blow off innocent blood, so I can't either, but how do I really help them out of that?

I do know that I don't have it right, and that I'm going to have to die some to find out.

"Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to OUR death."

And as it happens, it's the only way to our life. The proverb, often quoted by Christians, rightly says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of that way is death." And why is that? Because the way that seems right to each of us is to avoid the death to which Jesus calls us, and that death is the only way to life.



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