Sunday, May 10, 2015

Bonhoeffer on the 'sinless-guilt' of Jesus

What follows is one of many thought-provoking passages in Bonhoeffer's Ethics. For a bit more biblical backdrop to this one might look at 2 Cor. 5:21. One should also note that when Bonhoeffer says 'becomes guilty' the word is Schuldübernahme, which can mean both 'becoming guilty oneself' and 'taking on the guilt of others'. Obviously Bonhoeffer thinks the latter has real significance:

"Jesus' concern is not the proclamation and realization of new ethical ideals, and thus also not his own goodness (Matt. 19:17!), but solely love for real human beings. This is why he is able to enter into the community of human beings' guilt, willing to be burdened with their guilt. 

Jesus does not want to be considered the only perfect one at the expense of human beings, nor, as the only guiltless one, to look down on a humanity perishing under its guilt. He does not want some idea of a new human being to triumph over the wreckage of a humanity defeated by its guilt. He does not want to acquit himself of the guilt by which human beings die. A love that would abandon human beings to their guilt would not be a love for real human beings. 

As one who acts responsibly within the historical existence of human beings, Jesus becomes guilty. It is his love alone, mind you, that leads him to become guilty. Out of his selfless love, out of his sinlessness, Jesus enters into human guilt, taking it upon himself. In him, sinlessness and bearing guilt are inextricably linked. As the sinless one, Jesus takes the guilt of his brothers and sisters upon himself, and in carrying the burden of this guilt he proves himself the sinless one....

Those who, in acting responsibly, seek to avoid becoming guilty divorce themselves from the ultimate reality of human existence; but in so doing they also divorce themselves from the redeeming mystery of the sinless bearing of guilt by Jesus Christ, and have no part in the divine justification that attends this event. They place their personal innocence above their responsibility for other human beings and are blind to the fact that precisely in so doing they become even more egregiously guilty. They are also blind to the fact that genuine guiltlessness is demonstrated precisely by entering into community with the guilt of other human beings for their sake. Because of Jesus Christ, the essence of responsible action intrinsically involves the sinless, those who act out of selfless love, becoming guilty."

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 'History and Good 2,' DBWorks 6: Ethics, p 275-6
(paragraph breaks and bold added)

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