On certainty and Bonhoeffer

October 2007 · 2 minute read

So, this post was originally started while I was waiting in the SeaTac airport. I had been reading my daily dose of news a la Google Reader (Yay for gears and offline capability!) when I stumbled across this post on Bonhoeffer. The quote that struck me like a lightning bolt (along with the original poster) was as follows

“The knowledge of good and evil appears to be the goal of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to supercede [aufzuheben – cancel, dissolve] that knowledge” (Ethics, 299).

Wow. What he’s saying here is that the business of Christian ethics is not about working out which actions are right and which are wrong. That would “…shove God off the judgment throne and presume to take a seat.” Instead:

The fundamental ethical reality is God’s calling and command (and before that, his triune personality and character(s)). Ethics is obedience.

If we accept this, then it become both easier and harder to live the Christian life. Easier since we no longer have to work out a complicated ethical system and harder because now we are faced with the task of hearing and obeying God’s command. And here is where the old questions of certainty raise up. How can we hear God’s call? How do we know that the “still small voice” is God’s and not our own?

The evangelical’s response that I generally hear is that all of God’s commands are in the bible. Our task is “simply” to read it in the right “frame of heart” and allow the Holly Spirit to convict us.

It seems to me that this still leaves the question of how to know our interpretation is valid. The scriptures are not freestanding truth that we can come to. We always come to it in our “cultural context” and with our preconceptions. And we are certainly not immune from making mistakes. Witness the plethora of crazies and cults that “simply” read the bible.

So, how can we know the call and command of God?