"To endure the cross is not tragedy, it is suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If the examples of the saints help keep us to the narrow path, then for me the mainstay has been this German Lutheran.
In his, Letters And Papers From Prison, in the midst of an ongoing discussion about religionless Christianity, Bultmann & Barth, he writes:
"Does the question about saving ones soul appear in the Old Testament at all? Aren't righteousness and the Kingdom of God on earth the focus of everything, and isn't it true that Romans 3.24ff. is not an individualistic doctrine of salvation, but the culmination of the view that God alone is righteous? It is not with the beyond that we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved, subjected to laws, reconciled, and restored. What is above this world is, in the gospel, intended to exist for this world; I mean that, not in the anthropomorphic sense of liberal, mystic pietistic, ethical theology, but in the biblical sense of creation and of incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ." (LPP.[Tegal] 5.5.1944)
Several things are important here:
- First, we must take into account the deeply Jewish nature of the Christian faith. As the Bishop N.T. Wright reminds us, creation, incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection are deeply embedded in the Hebrew theological universe, a universe which we Christians grew to share with them. This means that within this idea of "God alone is righteous," is contained God's fidelity to the Abrahamic Covenant -- "through you all the world will be blessed".
- The gospel is therefore the primary act of God to reconcile and renew his world from corruption and death, for the gospel is the carrier of Covenant.
- Which means the Kingdom People, the New Covenant People, or the New Humanity (N.T. Wright) -- that is the Church -- exists for the world and for the other. The gospel is not, therefore, primarily a message of personal salvation. Instead, the gospel is a message of global restoration and redemption (read: Kingdom) that of course has individual implications, but which starts from a very wide universal ring and moves inward toward the personal.
- The gospel then, as the message of God, reveals God not as arbitrary, capricious, or malevolent, but one who willingly suffers for the other. This brings us to the first quote above. If the church exists for the world -- and not its own pleasure and personal security -- then the church will suffer for her allegiance to the Christ and his cross, and she will carry in her own body the marks of that cross and that suffering.