Rethink #3: Discipleship – Life without God

What follows is undoubtedly one of the most powerful things I have ever read.
We cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in the world etsi dues non daretur [as if there were no god]. And this is just what we do recognize – before God! God himself compels us to recognize it. Our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15.34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8.17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering.
Here is the decisive difference between Christianity and all religions. Man’s religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world: God is the dues ex machina. The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help. To that extent we may say that the development towards the world’s coming of age, which has done away with a false conception of God, opens up a way of seeing the God of the Bible, who wins power and space in the world by his weakness.[1]
The first time my eyes passed over this my jaw, quite literally, dropped. All I could say was “Whoa!” All I could think was “Did I just read that?”
What it communicates to me is that Christianity is not cheap. It is not a projection. It is not what we want it to be.
Bonhoeffer’s famous words
When Christ calls us, his call leads us to death.[2]
are taken up here and applied in a profound assessment of how Christianity is to interact with the world around it.
This is the place where we cease to fear our world and all of its complexities and intellectual power. This is the place where we begin to work with our world as we see that it’s working assumption “God is dead!” is not completely wrong.
The Christian God did die. He was weak. He was helpless. He was part of this, at times, grim thing we call life and it did its worst to him.
This is the true face of discipleship – and our world has helped reveal its ultimate and only intensity.
Discipleship is a projection when we make our God powerful. Discipleship is too easy when our God is in control and sovereign and omnipotent and whatever other adjective you want affixed.
Discipleship finds its honest definition when we recognize that we follow the weak, suffering, rejected and forsaken God.
Discipleship finds its honest definition when we recognize that we follow the Jesus who is left abandoned by his God.
Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani [my God, my God, why have you forsaken me!][3]
Discipleship is always a call into this experience.
We follow the God who rejects and forsakes us.
We follow the God who says we must manage our lives without Him.
And this we do before God!
We follow the God-man, Jesus.
We follow Him to the cross and stand forsaken by God, with the God-man.
Before God and with God we live without God.
Discipleship is a call to stand with the forsaken God-man.
Discipleship is a call into God’s rejection and death.
Discipleship is a call which sees us rejected and forsaken by God.
Discipleship is the place where we realize we are to manage our lives without God – before God and with God.
Christians are not rescued from life but made to experience the cold face of it. We are not hidden from its horror but left exposed on a tree with the God who does the same.
Man is summoned to share in God’s sufferings at the hands of a godless world.[4]
As such, Christians represent, in the world, the God who has taken up residence through his weakness.
Our world in growing up has mobilised its intellectual power to demonstrate that we can live without the idea of God. Christianity has ever and always extended the same news – not that we can live without God but that we must live without God. Yet what we also find is that our world has never been thinking of the same god. Its idea of god is not synonymous with the Christian God.
Christianity argues that God is not our crutch. God is not our last resort. God is not a conclusion to be recognised as redundant on the basis of the truth of evolutionary theory, or an important psychological discovery, or the development of complex political and ethical systems.
God stands not, at the edge of our world, in abstract ideas waiting to be made redundant but at the centre of our world – and it is from this place he allows himself to be rejected. It is from this place he allows himself to be pushed out and forsaken and this is exactlyhow he helps us.
Discipleship requires we follow Christ there, to this place and it is there we wait in the wake of the death of the rejected, suffering God – recognizing that it is only this God who can help.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison, 360-361
[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 87
[3] Mark 15:34
[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison, 361
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