Abide in Love

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God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 1 John 4:16

In a sermon on 1 John 4:16, which was delivered on 09 November 1930 to commemorate Armistice Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer poses the following question to his congregation: “How can the [human] who hates [their sibling] expect grace by God?”[1]  This question is especially relevant today given the political predicament in which we live.  Hatred and contempt of the other, fueled by anger and frustration with one’s current economic or social circumstances, have weakened our relationships with each other in the public square.  In asking his question, Bonhoeffer challenges one to see how lazy and bad it is for one to perpetuate hatred, yet simultaneously yearn for God’s grace.  It is as though one is rejecting the very grace one is allegedly asking for.  Moreover, perpetuating hatred excuses one from doing the difficult and humbling work of personal and social transformation.

Our political climate is toxic and our democracy will consequently weaken if one does not conscientiously work to heal social and political divisions.  In the midst of such great divisions, which he himself had witnessed during World War I, Bonhoeffer preaches that social unity can be found at the foot of the cross: “[u]nder the cross of Christ we know that we all belong to each other, that we are all [siblings] in the same need and in the same hope, that we are bound together by the same destiny….”[2] It would do all followers of Jesus Christ well, Republican and Democrat alike, to turn to the cross today.  At the cross, we see God’s embodied solidarity in our common human experience of pain and suffering and in our shared need for restoration, healing, and wholeness.

The causes of our anxiety, pain, and suffering are all different; one person or group of people will even be the cause of another person’s or group’s anxiety, pain, and suffering.  However, the cross is the place where God, out of love, bears the suffering of the world.  Bonhoeffer states that one’s response to this generous gift should also be love, namely a love that strives for mutual understanding: “[l]et us in this hour gratefully consider … that God has called us to [be] [God’s] children and made us [siblings], that there cannot be any hate and enmity, but only the best will to understand each other…”[3]  Black, brown, and white, rich and poor, people of every sexual orientation, gender identity, and ability are equally in need of God’s love, mercy, and grace.  The ground is leveled as one grows to realize that one’s relationship with God and with one another is bound together intrinsically as one.  In other words, one cannot love God most fully if one cannot also fully love God’s creation, which God has loved into existence.  It is precisely at the foot of the cross where the white person can honestly declare in love that black lives matter.

In the First Epistle of John, the scriptural foundation from which Bonhoeffer builds his sermon, the evangelist writes that “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  God’s love is shown to humanity in a multitude of ways, but especially in and through Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus Christ, who is the fullest revelation of what it means to be both human and divine, died on the cross for everyone, not just a select few.  As a result, every relationship, horizontal and vertical, is transformed and sanctified at the cross.  We are all called to enter into solidarity with the suffering(s) of each other and love one another through the social, economic, and ecological pain we feel lest, as Bonhoeffer warns, “we would offend the glory of God, who is a God of love and not of hate.”[4]  This level of solidarity and understanding, of course, is not of our own doing, but achievable only by the grace of God, and is the very balm we need to heal the divisions of our day.

+ CMJ

Citations:

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon on 1 John 4:16 in Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, English Edition, Volume 10, 581.

[2] Ibid., 580.

[3] Ibid., 581.

[4] Ibid., 581.

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