Monday, December 18, 2006

Immediacy is an Illusion

So, I've been asked enough times that I guess I should explain why I've titled this blog the way I have. If you know me at all, you know that my greatest hero in the Faith is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If you don't know me, you can see how much I respect the man by the fact that I named my son in honor of him. My relationship with Bonhoeffer began approximately 10 years ago, and my reverence for him only grows and never diminishes, even when I read things with which I disagree or with which I am uncomfortable. Those moments sharpen my critical-thinking skills (we should be thankful for anyone who makes us do that) and I am either reminded that no one thinks the same thing all the time or that even heroes can be wrong.

But Bonhoeffer is rarely wrong when he is talking about how radically Christ has changed His followers. Few authors in the history of the Church have been able to articulate as potently just how demanding is the Christian call to discipleship. And I think we need to be reminded often of the seriousness of that call. Thus, I took the occasion of my son's birth to reread the first Bonhoeffer book I ever read, Discipleship (popularly known as The Cost of Discipleship). The first time I read it, many of the more famous passages of the book stood out to me. The costly grace vs. cheap grace chapter and the ever-powerful line, "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die," captured me and entered me into the Bonhoeffer fan club and, more importantly, spurred me on to a deeper and more serious commitment to my Lord and Savior. This read, however, a different idea stood out to me. It had to do with what it really means for Jesus Christ to be our Mediator. And from here, I'll let the much more eloquent Bonhoeffer himself explain:

"It is true, there is something which comes between persons called by Christ and the given circumstances of their natural lives. But it is not someone unhappily contemptuous of life; it is not some law of piety. Instead, it is life and the Gospel itself; it is Christ Himself. In becoming human, He put Himself between me and the given circumstances of the world. I cannot go back. He is in the middle. He has deprived those whom He has called of every immediate connection to those given realities. He wants to be the Medium; everything should happen only through Him. He stands not only between me and God, He also stands between me and the world, between me and other people and things. He is the Mediator, not only between God and human persons, but also between person and person, and between person and reality. Because the whole world was created by Him and for Him (John 1:3; I Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:20), He is the sole Mediator in the world. Since Christ there has been no more unmediated relationship for the human person, neither to God nor to the world. Christ intends to be the Mediator. … So people called by Jesus learn that they had lived an illusion in their relationship to the world. The illusion is immediacy. It has blocked faith and obedience. Now they know that there can be no unmediated relationships, even in the most intimate ties of their lives, in the blood ties to father and mother, to children, brothers and sisters, in marital love, in historical responsibilities. Ever since Jesus called, there are no longer natural, historical, or experiential unmediated relationships for His disciples. Christ the Mediator stands between son and father, between husband and wife, between individual and nation, whether they can recognize Him or not. There is no way from us to others than the path through Christ, His Word, and our following Him. Immediacy is a delusion." (pp. 93-95)

As you can see, I've tweaked Bonhoeffer's words a little for the blog title, but the paraphrase sums up just how striking a concept it really is. Every relationship we have, EVERY relationship, is mediated by Jesus Christ. Thus, any immediacy we think we have with someone or something else is an illusion — completely earth shattering! I'll be the first to admit how very infrequently I pay attention to this truth or live out the consequences of it. But my inabilities don’t make it any less true. And the more I pay attention to this reality, the more I will grow in my relationship with my Mediator, the better I will understand Him and the higher He will be exalted by me. I want my life to be as reflective of the fact that Christ is my Mediator and that immediacy is an illusion as was Bonhoeffer's. Naming a blog may not be a big step toward reaching that goal, but it will remind me of that goal every time I log on.

If you haven’t read Discipleship, read the standard Simon & Schuster edition (titled, The Cost of Discipleship). If you have read a standard translation, I recommend trying the Fortress Press, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works edition. It will not only give you new perspective on what you've read before, it will give you a better understanding of what Bonhoeffer actually wrote in German. The standard translations are quite loose. The Fortress Press edition strives for a better balance between the dynamic and the literal. The above quote is from the Fortress Press edition.

1 comment:

Jit Fong said...

Thanks for finally explaining it! I will get to Bonhoeffer sometime.