In preparation for a faculty retreat tomorrow, we are all reading the first chapter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic Life Together. The chapter is called “Community.” One of the key elements of Bonhoeffer’s theology of life together is his understanding of the complete and eternal mediation of Christ, not only as the mediator between God and humans, but also as the mediatior between humans themselves. There is no unmediated Christian community, Bonhoeffer says; only a spiritual fellowship of men and women mediated in and through Jesus Christ.
But it was his description of the nature of how it is that Christ stands between us that really struck me.
Because Christ stands between me and others, I dare not desire 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. This is the meaning of the proposition that we can meet others only through the mediation of Christ. Human love constructs its own image of the other person, of what he is and what he should become. It takes the life of the other person into its own hands. Spiritual love recognizes the true image of the other person which he has received from Jesus Christ; the image that Jesus Christ himself embodied and would stamp upon all men. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together [Harper, 1954], 35-6)