Human Community vs. the Community of the Spirit

Life Together with many crazy flagsI recently finished reading for the first time Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I purposely say “for the first time” because I suspect that this is only the first of many readings.  When reading, I like to flag passages that speak to me, that I would like to come back to and record for later study.  As you can see, Life Together wound up with many, many such flags. 

Here’s one passage that struck as being particularly appropriate to the university. Bonhoeffer is contrasting a community built on the Word of God in Jesus Christ with a community built on human desires. 

The basis of all spiritual reality is the clear, manifest Word of God in Jesus Christ.  The basis of all human reality is the dark, turbid urges and desires of the human mind.  The basis of the community of the Spirit is truth; the basis of human community of spirit is desire…In the community of the Spirit the Word of God alone rules; in human community of spirit there rules, along with the Word, the man who is furnished with exceptional powers, experience, and magical, suggestive capacities. There God’s Word alone is bring; here, besides the Word, men bind others to themselves.  There all power, honor, and dominion are surrendered to the Holy Spirit; here spheres of power and influence of a personal nature are sought and cultivated.  It is true, in so far as these are devout men, that they do this with the intention of serving the highest and the best, but in actuality the result is to dethrone the Holy Spirit, to relegate Him to  unreality. (Life Together, 31-32, emphasis added)

Doesn’t this reflect the university in many ways?  It is absolutely true that there are many, many “devout men (and women)” within the academy who have “the intention of serving the highest and the best.” And they often succeed.  Consider, as just one example, the incredible life-saving medical advances that university researchers devote their entire careers to.  Yet they neglect the One who truly is the highest and the best.  

The Book of Common Prayer offers the following prayer for universities, colleges, and schools, which points to God as the source and end of all knowledge:

Almighty God, of whose only gift cometh wisdom and understanding: We beseech thee with thy gracious favor to behold our universities, colleges, and schools, that knowledge may be increased among us, and all good learning flourish and abound.  Bless all who teach and all who learn; and grant that in humility of heart they may ever look unto thee, who art the fountain of all wisdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

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