Ethics I: Christ, Reality, and Good
January 21, 2011 § 9 Comments
I realize that it’s been over a month since my last post, and since I’m sure you eagerly visit this blog several times a day hoping for an update, I apologize for your frequent disappointment. What I’ve decided to do over the next while will double as thesis research and blog content. I’m re-reading through Bonhoeffer’s Ethics and writing précis on each manuscript. My hope is that this will help focus my attention on potential issues, major themes, key scriptures, and, most relevantly for my current project, how Bonhoeffer undergirds his ethics with theological anthropology. But I also thought that for those of you who have never had the chance (or energy) to read through this book, I could post my summaries for your reading pleasure. Please ask questions or make observations if you have any. You probably see things I don’t and your input will be very helpful to my research.
Note that a précis makes no attempt to be original, and I have lifted many lines directly out of the text. The idea is simply to reproduce the author’s argument in a condensed form. This also means that anything profound, questionable, or just plain awesome in what follows is Bonhoeffer, not me.
I: Christ, Reality, and Good
Ethics [DBWE 6]: 47-75
The question of being or doing good, though seemingly the obvious starting-point for Christian ethics, must be immediately abandoned as inappropriate to the topic. The only valid starting-point is the will of God. When being or doing good is the telos of ethical reflection, a decision has already been made to treat either the self or the world as ultimate reality, necessarily excluding the reality of God. The ethical question must always come down to this: With what reality will we reckon in our life? With the reality of God’s revelatory word or with the so-called realities of life? Because in Christ the reality of God has entered the reality of the world, the question of good can only find its answer in Christ. Seeking the good is about participating in the reality of Christ, for good is the real that has its reality only in God. Any attempt to separate ethics into nature and behaviour, the ‘ought’ and the ‘is’, intention and consequences, results in abstraction. Humans are indivisible wholes, and to participate in the indivisible whole of God’s reality is the meaning of the Christian question about the good.
In Christ, we stand at once in the reality of God and in the reality of the world. The Christian ethic is concerned with how these realities become real in our world today. The doctrine of the two realms, which states that the divine and the worldly are two distinct and unreconcilable realities, must at once be abandoned. There are not two realities but one, the reality of Christ, in which the reality of God and the reality of the world are united. Every static distinction between two realms leads to eternal conflict, but one who stands in the one reality of Christ embraces reality as a whole. Therefore, the church cannot think of itself as the locus of God’s acceptance outside the world; rather it must faithfully call the world into the community of the body of Christ to which the world in truth already belongs.
Like all of creation, the world has been created through Christ and toward Christ and has its existence only in Christ. The world stands in relationship to Christ whether it knows it or not. This relation of the world to Christ becomes concrete in the divine mandates: work, marriage (family), government, and church. These exist as commanded by God; there can be no retreat from the “worldly” into the “spiritual” without retreating from this concrete form of human life given by God. The divine mandates place us before the one reality of Christ, in whom God and world were united. The will of God is the realization of the Christ-reality among us and in our world, and it has already been fulfilled by God. Therefore God’s will is not hidden and incomplete, but disclosed and accomplished. The ethical question arises from being confronted with this revealed Christ-reality in the world today.