Bonhoeffer and Obama

Eric Metaxas has just published the first biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in forty years: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. This review at Fox News has an illuminating quote from Metaxas that should sound alarm bells in the age of Obama:

But the legacy that Bonhoeffer leaves future generations is of the untold dangers of idolizing politicians as messianic figures. Not just in the 1930s and ’40s, but today as well.

“It’s a deep temptation within us,” says Metaxas. “We need to guard against it and we need to know that it can lead to our ruin. Germany was led over the cliff, and there were many good people who were totally deluded.”

Bonhoeffer, says Metaxas, was a prophet. He was a voice crying in the wilderness. He was God’s voice at a time when almost no one was speaking out against the evil of the Nazis.

For further reading on Bonhoeffer:

Here is the International Bonhoeffer Society’s English language page, and here is a good article by a member of that society.  Here is a general biographical article from the Wikipedia.  Here is a list of his books, many of which have a limited preview available.  Here is a short selection from his most famous work, The Cost of Discipleship.  And here is the poem, “Who Am I?”

Quantum Sovereignty

God is sovereign. Of this I have no doubt. I have no more doubt of it than I have that the Word of God is inerrant, but for me inerrancy is not a very useful word, and neither is sovereignty. Of course God is right, but do I understand His meaning? Of course God is sovereign, but do I truly understand what that means?

I do not question salvation by grace through faith or the authority of Scripture or even God’s sovereignty. It’s just that we are not saved by the doctrine of justification, so we are not saved by the doctrine of sovereignty or predestination or any other teaching. We are saved by the cross, not the doctrine of atonement.

God sovereignty is only one aspect of his nature. Scripture never says God is sovereign in the same way—the same grammatical construction—that it says “God is love.” An aspect of God’s nature is his sovereignty, his power. But his nature is love, and divine power is rooted in love.

God’s power is limited by his nature. He has no power to sin, and not just by some semantic twist of words whereby because he’s good everything he does is righteous. Doing flows out of being, God’s as well as man’s, and as God is, so he does, and he has not the power to do otherwise. What’s truly amazing about that is that God can not choose not to love.

God owes us nothing, indeed, but he couldn’t not love us. He has no more power not to love than I do to turn water into wine. In the reformed tradition they act as if what God does is right because he does it. What God does is right because he has no choice but to be who he is. He can’t not love us.

The reformed tradition puts demands on God. “Because I understand the Bible this way, God must be that way.” I have had people challenge my views with “if God is not supreme in all things is he worthy to be praised?” God is worthy to be praised, period. I will set no condition upon it.

But I believe sin has real power; it’s not just perceptual. I believe that the “law of sin and death” is every bit as real as the laws of physics. Sin causes. It has real world consequences apart from our perception. In other words, sin won’t disappear if we just look at it differently. It’s true that sometimes what we perceive as sin isn’t. It’s also true, however, that sin really exist. The power of sin and death is every bit as scriptural as sovereignty. Satan and sin have power in this world. Satan is called the “god of this world.” (1 Corinthians 4:4), and he has power.

Just as God is sovereign over the laws of nature, but does not often interfere with them (at least as far as we can tell), so the law of sin and death also operates as a real force in the natural world. God can and does intercede in nature with miracles, and He also intercedes in the law of sin and death through the redeeming work of His Son and transforming work of His Spirit.

However, just as He does not “cause each and every leaf to fall to the ground” (as Luther asserted) , so He does not cause each sin related event, such as abortion (which would make abortion part of His plan for the aborted child.)[1]

In the classic view of God’s sovereignty there can be no randomness whatsoever. Any randomness could result in an outcome that might lead to God losing control of the world, at least according to this view. That means that in a game of Russian Roulette God determines exactly when the single bullet stops spinning one chamber before the hammer. That means that for every deck of cards that has ever been shuffled, God has determined the order of the cards because many outcomes have rested upon the shuffle the deck of cards and the toss of a coin, outcomes God can not allow to be left to chance if He planned it all out from the beginning, down to the individual leaf.

For a long time, Newtonian mechanics was seen as a perfect explanation for how the universe works. Ultimately it began to break down, or rather, not break down so much as begin to show its incompleteness. Quantum mechanics replaced Newtonian mechanics with a more complete understanding of how the universe works, but it too is still incomplete.

I believe that the Medieval mindset conceived God’s sovereignty in a mechanical way, much like Newtonian physics. I think that it is incomplete, and I think it’s time for a shift to a more quantum understanding of God’s sovereignty.

Here’s a syllogism: Everything God wills is Good. Nothing happens outside His will. Therefore, everything is good.

Therefore what is there to be redeemed or restored? It make nonsense of the concept of redemption. Everything that has and will happen has happened or will happen according to His will. (Remember Luther, quoted above, there is no contingency, period.) Where is the need for redemption, for restoration, for re-creation? It’s all good. It’s our faulty perception of “accidents” that cause us to think otherwise, right?

We, of all beings, are made in His image. God gave us power, too. Does that mean that in some precious way he truly imbibed us with a degree of sovereignty? John 1:12 tells us this power is for all who believe. He has given us the power to be His children. This means we alone of all creation can also create because we alone are created in His likeness, and we alone are His children.

(Evil can not create. It can only destroy. Just as there can only be heat, and cold is the loss or absence of heat, but it still has a real experiential effect, so evil is the loss or absence of good. Evil is experienced by us a real, like cold, but it is not creative; it is destructive. That’s why Satan has the power of death but not life.)

The Reformed tradition limits God’s power and sovereignty. He planned it all out and made it happen exactly the way He intended so that not a single leaf falls to the ground without His decision, no randomness, no contingency? God is way more sovereign than that. Yes. That’s what I said. God is way more sovereign than that.

Why must an event only have meaning if it’s part of some plan? Why can’t the God of all creation, who created ex nihilo, daily create anew with the corrupted things of this world? Why can’t He create meaning from meaninglessness, create purpose from purposelessness, create sense from senselessness?

Rather than something having some purpose because it was part of a plan before the foundation of the world, why couldn’t God’s plan be to show His power and glory by taking what we, in our genuine freedom and power, destroyed and re-creating it.

So, I could die a perfectly senseless death tomorrow. I have no hope that I won’t. What I do have is the hope that if I do, God can take my death and give it meaning. God is able to build straight with the “crooked timber of humanity.” That crookedness is real, and not part of His will or plan, but He can take it and make it something new. For me, this is what it means for Him to be Creator God. His creation wasn’t over on the sixth day.

In John 5:17 ” Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” My Father is working… working? What reason? It was all done on the 6th day. There is no contingency. There are no accidents. It’s all part of a plan.

It seems clear to me that after the Fall He went back to work re-creating.

Before the creation of the world there was nothing. God created. After the Fall, dare I say it, there was nihilism. That is Satan’s goal, to take the meaning out of creation in the same way making something cold is really taking the heat out of it. God’s power is such that He can create as well out of nihilism as he can out of nothing. That is the redemption of the world, a redemption and restoration out of nihilism.

We don’t grasp God’s sovereignty fully because we don’t grasp the Fall fully. The Fall was absolute and total. It was an authentic act of freedom by those created in the image of the Creator. It had real consequences, and still does as the law of sin and death is at work, but Creator God can manifest His sovereignty and power by creating life from death.

Quantum sovereignty!

I fear I belabor this point, but imagine this. God is the Potter. Made in His image, His plan was for us to be potters, creating alongside Him, with Him and through Him. He gave us the freedom and power, though, to create on our own. It was necessary if we were to be made in His image. We did, and we botched it, badly. Each of us makes a mess of our earthly vessel, but when we offer it to God He doesn’t fix it; He re-creates it as it should have been all along, as if we had never botched it.

Quantum Sovereignty!

God can give us true and real power, freedom and control because it is impossible for us to do anything which He does not have the power to redeem. It’s OK for us to really have the power to do things against His will even if it’s not right when we do because He is so sovereign that he can weave His purpose from randomness, accident, sin, error, mistake and disobedience.

One reason our faith is weak is that we image that God does everything (no contingency, no randomness). What if there is nihilism? That too is what is being redeemed. Why is the thought that God has “made us little lower than the heavenly being and crowned us with glory and honor” so scary. Is it because that would mean we bear eternal responsibility?

The Bible is full of talk of God’s plans, purposes and will as though they are distinct. Why can’t he create the structures, both physical and spiritual, whereby His ultimate redemption of the world works as planned without Him dictating which kid dies getting on a school bus?

  1. “[W]ith God there simply is no contingency, but it is only in our eyes. For not even the leaf of a tree falls to the ground without the will of the Father.” Lectures on Romans, Works Vol. 25, p. 373 []

Do Good Always

“My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17)

As far as church seasons go, I think it’s safe to say most of us prefer any other to Lent. With all the introspection, repentance, and self-denial, we don’t often look upon Lent as a joy filled and uplifting season, but then, often times, neither is life itself.

On the 25th of January, 2006 Barbara Mann lost her five children and two nieces in a tragic car accident, and later that night her father when he died of a heart attack upon hearing the news. When witnessing the worse imaginable tragedy that could befall a person, one can only be filled with doubt, confusion, anger and deep sorrow.

Ironically, our response to deep, inexplicable suffering is often to seek explanation. We philosophize: “Everything happens for a reason,” or “All things work together for good.” In our attempt to alleviate our own suffering from doubt and confusion we often do more harm to those whose suffering we should be sharing instead.

In John 5 Jesus shows us “a more excellent way.” When faced with a man who had been suffering continuously for thirty-eight years, Jesus wasn’t philosophical. He acted. He healed him. Not only that, he healed him by commanding the man to do something the religious authorities of the day considered unlawful.

Jesus’s message to us is that it is always lawful to do good, especially when faced with the suffering of another. Not only is it lawful, it is the only correct response to suffering, including our own. Are you doubting and confused? Do good always. Are you lonely and afraid? Do good always.

God is not some cosmic utilitarian moving pawns on his teleological chessboard to optimize his end game. He is a Wounded Healer who suffers for and with us. In healing the man beside the pool in the way he did, Jesus not only healed him, he took his future suffering at the hands of the religious leaders upon himself. Instead of persecuting the man for breaking the Sabbath, they persecuted Jesus.

In this somber season of Lent when we reflect upon the suffering of a broken world, and our part in it, let us remember the lesson of the Wounded Healer to do good always and “go and do likewise.” In doing so, we may find that Lent is as joyous a season as the others, for to run from the pain of suffering and sin would only be to flee from the joy that awaits us on the other side. Avoiding Lent would mean missing Easter.

Lord, enable us to do good always, no matter the season, that we may be wounded healers in a broken world.