Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Image of Christ

Dietrich BonhoefferFrom the final chapter of “The Cost of Discipleship.”

Bonhoeffer begins by explaining how the image of God was distorted through the Fall.

When the world began, God created Adam in his own image, as the climax of his creation.  He wanted to have the joy of beholding in Adam the reflection of himself.  ‘And behold it was very good.’ God saw himself in Adam.  Here, right from the beginning, is the mysterious paradox of man.  He is a creature, and yet he is destined to be like his Creator. Created man is destined to bear the image of uncreated God. Adam is ‘as God.’ His destiny is to bear this mystery in gratitude  and obedience toward his Maker.  But the false serpent persuaded Adam that he must still do something to become like God: he must achieve that likeness by deciding and acting for himself.  Through his choice Adam rejected the grace of God, choosing his own action.  He wanted instead to unravel the mystery of his being for himself, to make himself what God has already made him (emphasis mine). That was the fall of man. Adam became ‘as God’ – sict deus – in his own way. But now that he had made himself god, he no longer had a God. He ruled in solitude as a creator-god in a God-forsaken subjected rule.

Bonhoeffer moves on to describe God’s plan of restoration

But God does not neglect his lost creature. He plans to re-create his image in man, to recover his first delight in his handiwork.  He is seeking in it his own image so that he may love it. But there is only one way to achieve this purpose and that is for God, out of sheer mercy, to assume the image and form of fallen man. But this restoration of the divine image concerns not just a part, but the whole image of divine nature. It is not enough for man to simply recover right ideas about God, or to obey his will in the isolated actions of his life. No, man must be re-fashioned as a living whole in the image of God. His whole form, body, soul and spirit, must once more bear that image on earth. Such is God’s purpose and destiny for man. His good pleasure can rest only on his perfected image.

Finally, Bonhoeffer explains how God accomplishes this restoration.

God sends his Son – here lies the only remedy.  It is not enough to give man a new philosophy or better religion. A Man comes to men. Every man bears an image. His body and his life become visible. A man is not a bare word, a thought or a will. He is above all and always a man, a form, an image, a brother. And thus he does not create around him just a new way of thought, will and action but he gives us the new image, the new form. Now in Jesus Christ this is just what has happened. The image of God has entered our midst, in the form of our fallen life, in the likeness of sinful flesh. In the teaching and acts of Christ, in his life and death, the image of God is revealed. In him the divine image has been re-created here on earth. The Incarnation, the words and acts of Jesus, his death on the cross, all are indispensable parts of that image. But it is not the same image as Adam bore in the primal glory of paradise. Rather, it is the image of one who enters a world of sin and death, who takes upon himself all the sorrows of humanity, who meekly bears God’s wrath and judgment against sinners, and obeys his will with unswerving devotion in suffering and death, the Man born to poverty, the friend of publicans and sinners, the Man of sorrows, rejected of man and forsaken of God. Here is God made man, here is the new image of God.

What a powerful picture of the gospel and what God has done for us in Christ!

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