Contemporary American Reflections on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together
In American culture, we believe the opposite of what the Bible teaches.
- In America, the meek do not inherit the earth; they inherit our scorn.
- In America, the silent listeners get trampled over by the “go-getters” as they leap to the top of the heap.
- In America, we see ourselves as more important than we really are, too busy with what we have deemed “important matters” to bother taking the time to do menial, inglorious helpful acts.
- In America, when someone is caught doing something he should not have been doing, we revel in it and take advantage of their mistakes for our own gain.
This is America. But this is American Christianity all too often as well.
Even though we are believers in Christ, we have been inundated with the concept of “self-esteem” that finds our worth in other things other than the grace and mercy of Christ.
As long as I think of myself as “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), I am better able to interact with other Christians in a more healthy way, no longer judging them or using them to boost my personal self-esteem.
Perhaps the one area that Christians in America needs the most work on is the ministry of listening. Bonhoeffer states, “The first service one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them…Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render…Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.”
Bonhoeffer expertly identifies how we “half listen,” while waiting for our opportunity to speak. How dishonoring this is to the person to whom we are talking. Bonhoeffer also insightfully says that this may be the reason people do not confess to one another their sins—“we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects.”
There does come a time to share words of advice (based solely on the Word of God) to others in the fellowship. But Bonhoeffer insists that this can only be done if and when there is an authenticity to the relationships that stems from truly showing meekness, taking the time to listen, offering consistent helpfulness even when it is inconvenient, and showing the grace of God in bearing people’s burdens.