Bonheoffer, the Fall, & Time/Space Continuum

(I posted this yesteday but forgot to include a title!)


Several days ago I discoursed re the time/space continuum and the human dilemma of being trapped (i.e. “lost”) therein. This is a very abstract notion and I recognize it probably sounds like a lot of non-sense to some. But I’d like to refer you to the work of Dietrich Bonheoffer who was one of the noted theologians of the 20th century; I think I could even safely place him in the evangelical pantheon of that era. In his book, Creation and Fall, he interpreted Genesis 1-3 and explained the extent of “the fall” in a similar vein to how I did in the aforementioned posting.

He posited the notion that the fall left mankind in this “time-space continuum” and that reason is itself a reflection of this fall and is intrinsically tainted by the experience. But mankind thinks he can “think” his way out of this existential predicament, not realizing that ultimately faith and hope have to have a role in the process if his rational quest is to have any ultimate meaning. Here Bonheoffer describes the circular reasoning that is the essence of this narcissistic endeavor:

…the thinking of fallen man has no beginning because it is a circle. We think in a circle. We feel and will in a circle. We exist in a circle. We might then say that in that case there is a beginning everywhere. We could equally say that there is no beginning at all; the decisive point is that thinking takes this circle for the infinite and original reality and entangles itself in a vicious circle. For where thinking directs itself upon itself as the original reality it sets itself up as an object, as an object of itself, and therefore withdraws itself behind this object again and again—or rather, thinking is antecedent to the object which it sets up.

Now I know this is convoluted. Let me try to interpret what he is saying. Bonheoffer is is echoing the words of Paul Tillich who said that “A religion within the bounds of reason is a mutilated religion.” And neither of them was disavowing reason (thinking); they were merely emphasizing its limitations. As long as mankind can keep his experience “reasonable” then he is safe in his illusion that he is in control. Spiritual teachers over the centuries have taught us that the experience of being “out of control”…momentarily, at least…is redemptive as it is in those moments that we can find an Anchor that transcends the mundane which is paradoxically immanent therein. But it/He is found only when we relinquish control and to the degree that we have done so.

And it is this “out of control” moment that teaches us the presence of a Beyond which graces the whole of our day to day life, a Beyond that gives meaning to all facets of human experience, including reason! Without this knowledge…and experience of this Beyond…we are reminded of the words of Goethe in Faust, “They call it Reason, using light celestial; just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.”

And again I am brought to a perfect object lesson in my country, the United States, and its current political impasse. We have so much confidence in “reason”, in “common sense”, in our political, military, and economic might. But we don’t pay any attention to this “Beyond” to which I make reference. If our leaders would pay the faintest attention to this Ultimate, they would at least be able to cooperate with each other well enough to address our issues like mature adults and not like two school-yard groups of thugs. Ultimately, our national issues…just like our personal issues…are resolved in the realm of the Spirit.


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