Trying to figure out good and evil (Ethics 1)

Bonhoeffer begins his look at ethics with a different perspective. He says that when we speak of ethics we are speaking of a knowledge we were never intended to have. Originally, he says, all we knew was God. He originally did not have the knowledge of good and evil, he had God. Once the knowledge of good and evil was introduced, it served as a wedge between us and God. Bonhoeffer concludes, “The knowledge of good and evil therefore is separation from God.”
What was supposed to make us like God separated us from God. The great irony is expanded by Bonhoeffer when he says, “He has become like God, but against God.” Why is knowledge of good and evil against God? Because, ultimately, I become the one who decides good and evil. Instead of knowing and trusting God, I want to know and trust myself. I think I can handle this knowledge, but it is too great for me. This is the conscience speaking up and trying to bring unity back to the self. Bonhoeffer says, “Conscience pretends to be the voice of God and the standard for the relation to other men.” But, I keep coming back to the blind hope that somehow I can make decisions of good and evil.
As a result, “Instead of seeing God, man sees himself.” And what he sees is not good from the very beginning. The knowledge of good and evil produces shame. Bonhoeffer says, “Man is ashamed because he has lost something that is essential to his original character…he feels shame because he lacks something.”
What he lacks is the unity he had before the knowledge of good and evil was introduced in the garden. Instead of liberating him, the knowledge of good and evil unravels everything. Every relationship man has is pulled apart in disunity. Man is no longer unified with himself or others. So, the person who trusts in self through reason, conscience, or feeling cannot find the answers concerning good and evil.
The only way out of this disunity and the resulting shame is through the forgiveness of sin which is the ultimate shame. It is the recognition of our complete failure.
After we have encountered the ultimate shame of knowing sin and finding forgiveness can we reconstruct the right way to live. But even then it does not come from inside. For Bonhoeffer, all of our knowledge of good and evil is too warped, too prone to legalisms of every kind. Instead, we must learn the will of God. Instead, we must walk in God’s love. The ability to overcome and live in unity is because of God’s love in us and through us.


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