Affronted Listeners

The way in which a person listens to his pastor is, I believe, a brand of spiritual stethoscope; a sort of finger upon the pulse of the individual soul. Each week, God opens His mouth through the voices of His ministers; He bids His children to draw near and draw in precious, soul-sanctifying truth. But listening requires humility and therein lies the rub. To listen — whether in the church or out — is to set aside both agenda and impulse in order to concentrate on what is before me. Quite frankly, the entire art of listening is a healthy affront to self — a hazardous step in the quest for personal happiness. Am I willing to cast aside every vain and unteachable thought? Am I willing to come in humility and meekly submit to the instruction laid before me? Am I willing to look beyond the messenger to see the Lord who stands behind him? Do I hear the undertones of the Master within the voice of the man? Indeed, the way in which we respond to bearers of the Gospel is the way in which we respond to the Lord Himself. May each of us endeavor this week to pray — to fervently pray — for our ministers, and to draw near with hearts that pulse with the prayer, “Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

“A natural heart is offended every day at the preaching of the Cross… The preaching of another’s righteousness–that you must have it or perish–many, I have no doubt, are often enraged at this in their hearts. Many, I doubt not, have left this church on account of it, and many more, I doubt not, will follow. All the offence of the Cross is not ceased. But a broken heart cannot be offended. Ministers cannot speak too plainly for a broken heart. A broken heart would sit for ever to hear of the righteousness without works.”

Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Dundee: W. Middleton, 1845, p. 395

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An Almost Love Story

“I was once in love with a girl; she became a theologian…”[1]

So began the account of an almost love story, penned by the hand of the famed martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By all accounts an intense and solitary man[2] the Bonhoeffer of younger years appears to have opened his heart to only her and in the kindred soil of shared experience their love took root.

For more than eight years, Elizabeth Zinn was his confidant, correspondent; his friend. And as his fellow student at Berlin University, the two drank deeply of a fellowship that included a range of topics—art, music, and the grand cohesion of all ideas—theology. In fact, Elizabeth’s doctoral dissertation, later inscribed to him,[3] supplied Bonhoeffer with one of his landmark quotations, “Embodiment is the end of God’s path.”

For Bonhoeffer and Zinn however, the end followed an earnest and very forthright discussion. “… it was too late,” he later wrote of their encounter. “We had evaded and misunderstood each other for too long. We could never be entirely in sympathy again…”[4]

That was it. No bitterness; just the fixed and firm awareness of a shadow fallen and a door now sealed; a solemn recognition of a thing that was and is no more. I understand that feeling. It is a cold and barren place to be.

Even so, (or perhaps because of it’s being so?), the romantic in me revolted at his words. I wanted closure for these two; I wanted the kiss, the smile, and the final joyous and happy ending. But this was life, not a fairytale. Somewhere along their path, a disconnect occurred; evasion and misunderstanding came in to steal away what remained. We know the rest: Bonhoeffer met the gallows and Zinn married someone else. The two never wrote or spoke to one another again. And we, the erstwhile students of their brief history are left longing for something infinitely… more.

Tomorrow I hope to add some thoughts on redemption; that is, the sovereign actions of the merciful God over this and other such apparent wastelands of the heart.

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[1] Metaxas, Eric; Timothy J. Keller (2010-04-20). Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (p. 66). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[2] This appears to change somewhat later in his life as he warmly gathered friends close to his heart.

[3] Two years prior, Bonhoeffer had inscribed her name in his post-doctoral thesis.

[4] Metaxas, Eric; Timothy J. Keller (2010-04-20). Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (p. 66). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.