Robert Vosloo on Bonhoeffer, Human Life, and Time

Since I’m not on any form of social media right now, I don’t have access to tweet out what I’m reading. So, I’ll be providing interesting quotes from work I’m engaging with for my dissertation via blog post (for the foreseeable future).

I’m very intrigued and have been deeply invested in comprehending Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his conception of the created orders (what he refers to as the divine mandates) and how he employs (or doesn’t employ?) Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. (I very literally read every essay and journal article that comes across my radar pertaining to these topics.) Comprehending Bonhoeffer’s doctrines here helps with my engagement with Friedrich Gogarten since he’s employing in his work the same concepts yet in different ways. Bonhoeffer and Gogarten are (for a bit) contemporaries. While there’s a near 20 year difference in age between them (Gogarten being older), there’s a decent chronological overlap with their work–until the 40s when Gogarten gets sick and doesn’t write for about a decade and Bonhoeffer dies in 1945. Anyway, while the overlap is breif (located more in the 20s and 30s), there’s still an overlap…one I’m fascinated with.

There are times when I read something off topic to round out my view to Bonhoeffer. And that’s where Robert Vosloo comes in. I cam across his article, “The Feeling of Time: Bonhoeffer on Temporality and The Fully Human Life” (found in Scriptura 99 (2008) pp 337-349). I loved it. I feel the title captures the essence of the article, and I don’t need to explain too much here about the content of the article. However, I’m offering the following quotes, which I found striking and worthy to share. Be sure, the entire article is definitely worth the time to read and it’s very well written.

(fwiw: the internal quotes within the quotes below are pulled from various works of Bonhoeffer.)

“[Bonhoeffer] wants to think about time with regard to the ethical demand arising from the confrontation with another person. The self enters a state of responsibility and decision at the moment of being addressed by another person. The person that is being addressed is not the idealist’s person of mind or reason but ‘the person in concrete, living individuality.’ This is the person that does not exist ‘in timeless fullness of value and spirit, but in a state of responsibility in the midst of time.’ It is the moment of responsibility in the midst of time that gives birth to the ethical.” (340)

“The temporal intention of a community is to reach the boundary of time (grenzzeitlich) and that of society is time bound (zeitbegrenzt). The eschatological character of community is the basis of the ‘holiness’ of human community life. this holiness reveals the fundamental indissolubility of these life structures. Over against this, society remains time bound and thus the end of history is for society a real end, not merely a boundary. For Bonhoeffer this is the reason why only a community (and not a society) can become a church. Thus the grappling with the concept of tie is for Bonhoeffer important in order to understand the concept of the church. For Bonhoeffer the church is no an unattainable ideal, but a concrete and present reality. The community is in time, but also transcends time. This dialectic s at the hart of Christ’s relation to the church. This relationship is to be understood in a dual sense: ‘(1) The church is already completed in Christ, time is suspended. (2) The Church is to be built within time as the firm foundation. Christ is the historical principle of the church.'” (341).

“For Bonhoeffer, revelation should be thought of in reference to the concept of the church as constituted by the present proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christian revelation is not something that has happened in the past, but as something in each ‘present’: ‘Christian revelation must occur in the present precisely because it is, in the qualified once-and-for-all occurrence of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, always something “of the future.”‘ Bonhoeffer’s plea is not merely for the importance of the ‘present’, but he also understand the present Christologically.” (344)

“‘…The church must not preach timeless principles however true, but only commandments that are true today. God is “always” God to us “today.”‘  And he continues by emphasizing that these words need embodiment. The gospel becomes concrete in the lives of those who hear and preach.” (345)

“Throughout Bonhoeffer’s Ethics we see Bonhoeffer’s commitment to concrete reality and historic existence. If the question of the good is abstracted from life and history, it becomes a static basic formula that transposes humans into a private and ideal vacuum. This leads either to private withdrawal or misguided enthusiasm. Bonhoeffer’s ethics is a critique of the abstract and the timeless and a plea for the concrete and timeful. This finds it [sic] deepest motivation in Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the interrelation between theology and life. Reflection on Bonhoeffer’s understanding of temporality cannot be separated from his concern for living a fully human life in the face of God’s presence. For Bonhoeffer ‘ethics’  is tied to a definite time and place…Bonhoeffer wants to guard against what he calls the ‘unhealthy takeover of life by the ethical.’ Such a pathological overburdening of life by the ethical destroys the creaturely wholeness of life.” (345)

“In the beginning of this essay, I remarked that the challenge is not merely to reflect on Bonhoeffer’s understanding of time, but also to think with Bonhoeffer (and Levinas) about a more fully human life amidst what can be called an economization of time. Something of the economization of time is reflected in the uncritical embrace of phrases like ‘time is money.’ Time is viewed as something people ‘spend’ or ‘save.’ Time becomes a valuable commodity that one looses if you go to slow. Life becomes a matter of the survival of the fastest. In the process, those who are not fast or mobile enough are marginalized and often suffer materially and emotionally. ‘Economic time’ often infiltrates life in such a way that time for the other, time for hospitality, time for friendships or leisure, is view, often unconsciously, as an unproductive waste of time. Time becomes a valuable possession of the individual to be managed and protected. Such an economization of time robs humanity of its humanness and compromises the witness of Christians to the God who became time and flesh in Jesus Christ.” (347)

“Bonhoeffer’s theology and life testifies to the importance of making and receiving time for the other, time for friendship, time for responsible hospitality and time for peace. The gift of time is what makes us vulnerable, but it is also what enables us to live a full human life….In his reflection After Ten Years…Bonhoeffer writes about the value of time and the pain of lost time. He continues, ‘Time lost is time in which we have failed to live a full human life, gain experience, learn, create, enjoy, and suffer; it is time that has not been filled up, but left empty.’… ‘We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled–in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.’ In an economizing and polarizing global society of societies, the kairos for Christian witness may reside in the ability to find time for and through the suffering other.” (348)

2 thoughts on “Robert Vosloo on Bonhoeffer, Human Life, and Time

  1. Guilty!!!…I suppose we all are, to some degree.
    I, for one, will certainly ‘think on these things’.
    God help us!!!
    Thank you for this, Libby Spain

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