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yoder“This new body, the church, as aftertaste of God’s loving triumph on the cross and foretaste of His ultimate loving triumph in His kingdom, has a task within history.  History is the framework within which the church evangelizes, so that the true meaning of history is the fact that God has chosen to use it [history] for such a ‘scaffolding’ service…

The ultimate meaning of history will not be found in the course of earthly empires or the development of proud cultures, but in the calling together of the ‘chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation,’ which is the church of Christ.  The church is not fundamentally a source of moral stimulus to encourage the development of a better society–though a faithful church should also have this effect–it is for the sake of the church’s own work that society continues to function.  The meaning of history–and therefore the significance of the state–lies in the creation and the work of the church.  The reason for Christian prayer in favor of the political authorities is that ‘God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2).  The function of the state in maintaining an ordered society is thereby a part of the divine plan for the evangelization of the world. [Footnote: The term evangelization should not be conceived too narrowly as limited to the recruitment of individual converts for the rank of the church.  Yet neither may it be reduced to a generalized proclamation of social goals independent of the call to faith or of the building of the believing community.]…

Often in past history Christians have been concerned for the life and work of the state because they felt that it was itself of the most fundamental importance in achieving God’s purpose in the world, whether this purpose called for the defeat of a political enemy or the establishment of a good society…The first level of the church’s faithfulness, and in a sense the test of the validity of everything else she shall say later, will be her own obedience to the standards of discipleship.  If it is clear to the church, as it was in New Testament times, that the central meaning of history is borne not by kings and empires but by the church herself, then her first duty to society will be the same as her first duty to her Lord…

The church is herself a society.  Her very existence, the fraternal relations of her members, their ways of dealing with their differences and their needs are, or rather should be, a demonstration of what love means in social relations.  This demonstration cannot be transposed directly into non-Christian society, for in the church it functions only on the basis of repentance and faith…

The church is more truly political, i.e., a truer, more properly ordered community, than is the state.” (John Howard YoderThe Christian Witness to the State)

bonhoeffer“By the way, I notice more and more how much I am thinking and perceiving things in line with the Old Testament: thus in recent months I have been reading much more the Old than the New Testament.  Only when one knows that the name of God may not be uttered may one sometimes speak the name of Jesus Christ.  Only when one loves life and the earth so much that with it everything seems to be lost and at its end may one believe in the resurrection of the dead and a new world.  Only when one accepts the law of God as binding for oneself may one perhaps sometimes speak of grace.  And only when the wrath and vengeance of God against God’s enemies are allowed to stand can something of forgiveness and the love of enemies touch our hearts.  Whoever wishes to be and perceive things too quickly and too directly in the New Testament ways is to my mind no Christian.  We have already, of course, discussed this a few times, and every day confirms for me that it’s right.  One can and must not speak the ultimate word prior to the penultimate.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, Works vol. 8, p. 213, to his friend Eberhard Bethge in 1943)

kierkegaard“The conflict about Christianity will no longer be doctrinal conflict (this is the conflict between orthodoxy and heterodoxy).  The conflict (occasioned also by the social and communistic movements) will be about Christianity as an existence.  The problem will become that of loving the ‘neighbor’; attention will be directed to Christ’s life, and Christianity will also become essentially accentuated in the direction of conformity to his life.  The world has gradually consumed those masses of illusions and insulating walls with which we have protected ourselves so that the question remained simply one of Christianity as doctrine.  The rebellion in the world shouts: We want to see action!” (Soren KierkegaardJournals and Papers 4185)

The Strange Triumph of the Lamb

Heschel“One of the greatest sins of contemporary education is to give the impression that you can solve all problems, or that there are no problems.  Actually, the greatness of man is that he faces problems.  I would judge a person by how many deep problems he’s concerned with.

But is that not the quest of religion, though, to give one a sense of inner peace?

You have to understand the meaning of inner peace.  Let me give you first an example of a person who has no problems.  Let me give you a dramatic, fictitious picture.  Here stands a man–and I’ll tell you this is a man who has no problems.  Do you know why?  He’s an idiot.

Because a man has problems.  And the more complicated, the richer he is, the deeper are his problems.  This is our distinction, to have problems, to face problems.  Life is a challenge…

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creed“In the end, nothing matters except that the life of the imagination, like all other life, must serve the purposes of God.  But the health and fidelity of the imagination are particularly important, because upon it so much else depends.  Our conduct is shaped by the condition of our vision: we are free to choose or to struggle against only what we can see.  Our vision, however, is determined by the most important images of the self from which we have fashioned our sense of identity.  These furnish us with our perspectives upon everything else; they finally legislate not only what we will and what we will not see, but the particular angle or point of view from which the whole of reality will be assessed.  How we see ourselves, then, determines how we will conduct ourselves in relation to others, to the world, and even to God–and all this is ultimately a matter of images.  If we cannot see ourselves as Christians, we shall scarcely be able to act except in ways that the fashions of this world legitimate.” (David Baily HarnedCreed and Personal Identity: The Meaning of the Apostles’ Creed, p. 120)

Memory and Identity

sacks“‘You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives.  Life without memory is no life at all…Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action.  Without it, we are nothing.’ [Luis Bunuel].  This moving and frightening segment in Bunuel’s recently translated memoirs raises fundamental questions—clinical, practical, existential, philosophical: what sort of a life (if any), what sort of a world, what sort of a self, can be preserved in a man who has lost the greater part of his memory and, with this, his past, and his moorings in time?…

[In the case of ‘memoryless Jimmie G.’, a patient of Oliver Sacks who had no ability to retain short-term memories], he was becoming fatigued, and somewhat irritable and anxious, under the continuing pressure of anomaly and contradiction, and their fearful implications, to which he could not be entirely oblivious…I found myself wrung with emotion—it was heartbreaking, it was absurd, it was deeply perplexing, to think of his life lost in limbo, dissolving.  ‘He is, as it were,’ I wrote in my notes, ‘isolated in a single moment of being, with a moat or lacuna of forgetting all round him…He is man without a past (or future), stuck in a constantly changing, meaningless moment’…My note was a strange mixture of facts and observations, carefully noted and itemized, with irrepressible meditations on what such problems might ‘mean,’ in regard to who and what and where this poor man was—whether, indeed, one could speak of an ‘existence,’ given so absolute a privation of memory or continuity. I kept wondering, in this and later notes—unscientifically—about a ‘lost soul,’ and how one might establish some continuity, some roots, for he was a man without roots…What was life without connection?…[He was now] a gruesome reduction of a man to mere disconnected, incoherent flux and change.” (Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, pp. 23, 29-30)

Memory and Salvation

karamozov“Let us agree here, by Ilyusha’s stone, that we will never forget–first, Ilyushechka, and second, one another.  And whatever may happen later in life, even if we do not meet for twenty years afterwards, let us always remember how we buried the poor boy, whom we once threw stones at–remember, there by the little bridge?–and whom afterward we came to love so much…

My dear children, perhaps you will not understand what I am going to say to you, because I often speak very incomprehensibly, but still you will remember and some day agree with my words.  You must know that there is nothing higher, or stronger, or sounder, or more useful afterwards in life, than some good memory, especially a good memory from childhood, from the parental home.  You hear a lot said about your education, yet some such beautiful, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education.  If a man stores up many such memories to take into life, then he is saved for his whole life.  And even if only one good memory remains with us in our hearts, that alone may serve some day for our salvation.” (From Alyosha’s final speech in the concluding chapter of The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevesky, p. 774)