Over the summer, I discovered Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s amazing work. I think he might be competing with Simone Weil as one of my favorite theologians. What I love about Bonhoeffer is that he puts very complex, innovative ideas about faith into clear, concise language that is totally accessible—while still forcing you to ask new questions of how you view your own faith.
As I was perusing A Testament to Freedom (a compilation of Bonhoeffer’s writings), I came across a 1928 essay called “Jesus Christ and the Essence of Christianity.” One point that struck me in particular was his argument concerning the directionality of faith—that God seeks us out, and instead we are simply open to him as opposed to truly active seekers of His presence. Bonhoeffer elucidates it far better than I can, so I will reproduce a section here:
And yet the correct meaning of the cross of Christ is nothing else than radical development of the concept of God held by Jesus himself. It is, so to speak, the historically visible form which this concept of God has assumed. God comes to people who have nothing but room for God—and this hollow space, this emptiness in people is called Christian speech, faith. This means that in Jesus of Nazareth, the revealer, God inclines to the sinner; Jesus seeks the companionship of the sinner, goes after him or her in boundless love. He wants to be where a human person is no longer anything. The meaning of the life of Jesus is the demonstration of this divine will for sinners, for those who are unworthy. (Bonhoeffer 52-53)
I don’t know about you, but I had always conceived of faith as something active—a “knock and the door shall be opened” mentality, though I realize now that that particular verse (Luke 11:9) was used out of context by the vast majority of my pastors and actually refers to prayer, not faith. I conceived of faith as a self-made project, a one-way belief in God that required constant maintenance and development. But here, Bonhoeffer seems to indicate that the “seeker’s” mentality isn’t necessarily the correct (or Biblical) way of going about faith, as it ignores God’s “personal,” if you will, stake in us.
What Bonhoeffer brings to light is the possibility that God comes to us, that God, somehow, humbles himself before the sinner. It just seems like such an impossibility to me—the greatness of God seeking me out? How? Shouldn’t I be seeking Him? I know it’s the heart of Christian faith, but it’s difficult to fit my “seeker” mentality into a “receiver’s” construct. I am the recipient of God’s attention, not one of many vying for His “time.” Bonhoeffer manages to capture messages we’ve heard over and over again—that God wants a relationship with every one of us—and state it in a new (and clearer) light.
I know seeking is an inherent part of faith, but it appears that I’ve ignored the other direction as well: that God desires to fulfill something in me as much as I desire to find something in Him. This directionality of faith may seem like something obvious, but I know I’ve forgotten it in my dogged pursuit of perfect faith. Perhaps I need to do a little more reflecting, allow God Himself to come to me, and somehow meet Him in the middle.