Bonhoeffer on God’s Will (from Ethics)

Last week I picked up Bonhoeffer’s Ethics.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this work, but I did anticipate a satisfying challenge to wrestle again with this 20th-century theological giant.  Having only read his Cost of Discipleship, however, I was unprepared for the struggle that lay ahead of me…this book is not an easy read!

While I’m not yet finished with the first chapter, I came across the following thought-provoking quote today in my reading:

“Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the will of God” (Rom 12.2).  “I pray that your love may about yet more and more in knowledge and discernment, that ye may prove the different situations (i.e., what is in each case right)” (Phil 1.0 and 10; cf. Rom 2.18).  “Walk as children of light…proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” (Eph 5.8ff.).  These sayings show the error of the view that the simple recognition of the will of God must take the form of an intuition which excludes any sort of reflexion and that it must be the naive grasping of the first thought or feeling to force itself upon the mind, the error, in other words, of that psychologizing misrepresentation of the new life which has begun in Jesus.  It is not said at all that the will of God forces its way into the human heart without further ado, charged with the accent of uniqueness, or that it is simply obvious, and identical with whatever the heart may think.  The will of God may lie very deeply concealed beneath a great number of available possibilities.  The will of God is not a system of rules which is established from the outset; it is something new and different in each different situation in life, and for this reason a man must ever anew examine what the will of God may be.  The heart, the understanding, observation and experience must all collaborate in this task.

In short, I think Bonhoeffer is saying, “In any given situation, the will of God is not necessarily an easy thing to discover.”  How far this is from what we often read and hear in the contemporary Church!

So what does anyone think?  Is Bonhoeffer on to something here?  I plan to write more later but wanted to throw this quote out to whet the appetite…

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2 thoughts on “Bonhoeffer on God’s Will (from Ethics)

  1. I like Bonhoeffer thoughts, although I do believe that God’s will is clearly distinguished in His Word. God didn’t leave things up to our conscious to decide or our instincts, but rather gave us the Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Just my 2 cents. 🙂

  2. I agree with you that God’s will is made known in his Word; however, with Bonhoeffer, I would suggest that his will in any particular situation may NOT be easily understood. It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to come up with situations that are not explicitly addressed in Scripture and where the correct course of action could be up for debate.

    That said, thanks for your two cents!

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