I’ve just begun reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and passionate disciple of Christ who was executed by the Nazi regime in 1945, at only 39 years of age.
Within the first hour of reading Life Together, Bonhoeffer’s words plucked a nerve in me (in other words: convicted me). His clear and precise division between spiritual love (a love that finds its origin and existence in God alone) and human love (a strong impulse or affection that originates and remains within our own selves) was a splash of cold, clean water to my face. I sat on my bed for twelve minutes and thought “Woah. DUH.” Then I proceeded to copy down page after page of his quotes into my journal.
I hope the following words prove to be just as precise and real – sobering and enlightening – for you as they are for me.
From the pen of Dietrich:
“Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake. Therefore, human love seeks direct contact with the other person; it loves him not as a free person but as one whom it binds to itself. It wants to gain, to capture by every means… Human love has little regard for truth. It makes the truth relative, since nothing, not even the truth, must come between it and the beloved person. Human love desires the other person, his company, his answering love, but it does not serve him. On the contrary, it continues to desire even when it seems to be serving… Human love makes itself an end in itself. It creates of itself an end, an idol which it worships, to which it must subject everything. It nurses and cultivates an ideal, it loves itself and nothing else in the world. Spiritual love, however, comes from Jesus Christ, it serves him alone; it knows that it has no immediate access to other persons. Jesus Christ stands between the lover and the others he loves… Because Christ stands between me and others, I dare not have direct fellowship with them. As only Christ can speak to me in such a way that I may be saved, so others, too, can be saved only by Christ Himself. This means that I must release the other person from every attempt of mine to regulate, coerce, and dominate him with my love. The other person needs to retain his independence of me; to be loved for what he is, as one for whom Christ became man, died, and rose again, for whom Christ bought forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Because Christ has long since acted decisively for my brother, before I could begin to act, I must leave him his freedom to be Christ’s; I must meet him only as the person that he already is in Christ’s eyes… Therefore, spiritual love proves itself in that everything it says and does commends Christ. It will not seek to move others by all too personal, direct influence, by impure interference in the life of another… It will not take pleasure in human fervor and excitement. It will rather meet the other person with the clear Word of God and be ready to leave him alone with this Word for a long time, willing to release him again in order that Christ may deal with him. It will respect the line that has been drawn between him and us by Christ, and it will find full fellowship with him in the Christ who alone binds us together. Thus this spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ. It knows that the most direct way to others is always through prayer to Christ and that love of others is wholly dependent upon the truth of Christ… Human love lives by uncontrolled and uncontrollable desires; spiritual love lives in the clear light of service ordered by the truth. Human love produces human subjection, dependence, constraint; spiritual love creates freedom of the brethren under the Word.”
Gosh. I want to get every word of that down deep into my mind, into my heart, into my relational interactions – with every friend, acquaintance, and loved one.
Jesus, enable me to love in such a way. I simply must.