What Comes Naturally

“But some things just come naturally….that’s just in his nature.” No. Plain and simple. No.

Human nature is already claimed, and what comes naturally may indeed be other than Christ and His life, but this is no longer what’s natural to us. What’s natural to us is the life that Jesus makes possible. The future and purpose of nature is Jesus Christ Himself. When we think of what’s natural, we as Christians don’t begin what the world thinks is natural. The natural has been revealed to us as that which comes from the end, the Kingdom, wherein God’s reign is full. We as the Church are the community where the laws of new creation are normative for our life and practice._

Being the church, we must learn that nature has been redefined for us around and in Jesus. We don’t begin to think about what comes naturally apart from Jesus. He commands the center of everything we think and say. God has ideas about nature, and they are presented to us rather clearly, and we have to think in and with God’s revelation.

God’s idea of nature is Jesus. What comes naturally, is that Kingdom, and its laws, not this one. What comes naturally is recovered on the basis of the gospel. “The Natural is that which after the fall is directed towards the coming of Christ”. [1]

What matters here is that Bonhoeffer is telling us that Jesus isn’t just something cute that happened once upon a time, He reorients all of human nature towards Himself, and whatever deviates from this is no longer natural, but unnatural. It is unnatural to oppose the coming of Christ.

It is incumbent upon us to learn to think this way about the world, or else we will fail to have the imaginative power that the gospel demands of our communities. We know the end of the story, we know that in the end, God will set all things to rights, and that justice will pour out over all creation. We know that God’s good creation was never intended to be as we see it now. That’s what Jesus means. Jesus is God’s idea of what creation is and means, because God Himself enters creation and lives the life of a creature always disposed to God in the right manner.

We think in and with the end of the story, because that’s what God intended, and intends for everything. Someday everything in all creation will look and think and act like Jesus, this is not to say we stop becoming individuals. What will happen is that just as Jesus is infilled with the presence of God so too we will be. Just as the sacraments are filled with His presence so too, each of us in our unique subjectivity will refract the manifold and unlimitedly creative power of the Triune God. We will all be sacraments, all creation will indeed in the end be sacramental. If you wonder what new creation looks like, look at the table of communion.

What comes naturally is the redeemed world we hope for. That’s what has always been intended. What’s in our nature as Christians is not us, but Christ. He is the goal of creation, and in Him we will be more and more truly ourselves.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer Ethics p. 143. 1995.
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Thanks for Reading. -eli

6 thoughts on “What Comes Naturally

  1. “Jesus is God’s idea of what creation is and means, because God Himself enters creation and lives the life of a creature always disposed to God in the right manner.”

    Yes. I love this. I will enter my usual caveat that one doesn’t need to be a Christian in order to see Yeshua as a perfect example of God among us, and to emulate his way of being in the world, but I love it.

    Thanks, Eli.


  2. You’re welcome Nancy. I don’t think Christianity is always synonymous with Christ either. but we have to understand that Christ is what the goal of all existence is.

  3. Hey Eli. Beautiful post; I love the song you are singing. 🙂 I’m also glad you did some “unpacking” toward the end of your article of what fulfillment in Christ of individuals and all nature might actually mean and look and feel like, so far as one could apprehend this.

    If one reads the humble Jesus of Mark, it can be hard for people to see what you are talking about unless they have also grokked the kind of ultimate, dare I say, “cosmic” Christ of that John’s gospel is all about.

    As we know, humanly, there’s no way one can find fulfillment and everything in the personality or person of another. But Bonhoeffer takes this as a “given” when it comes to the person of Jesus. But unless you have his ultimate vision of Christ, I don’t think that’s so self-evident unless one really unpacks the words.

    Christ in the gospels is the fulfillment of all things, though it says finally even he becomes finally subservient to God, when all the salvatory work is done. But Christ is surely also a template for the Christian, not as clones but in their own individuality and full personhood. I know you know this, and you carefully point to this fact. But I find that Bonhoeffer kind of falls into his own code, his own jargon, and I think it’s a real limitation for folks trying to get what he sees.

    It can feel hugely limiting to seem to be saying that the answer to everything—and all beauty, and meaning, and glory, and all joy–can somehow be reduced to what we can read in the gospels of the personality of Jesus. There’s way too much goodness, and glory, and beauty and wonder in people and in the natural world that seems to have nothing at all to do with the story of the Nazarene who lived two thousand years ago.

    The glory of Beethoven, the beauty of mathematics, the profundity of Shakespeare, the incredible insight of physical sciences, the sheer beauty and wonder of nature and physical laws—these things can’t seem to be dismissed (and I don’t think you are dismissing them!) because it sounds like Christians are saying all we really need is the person of Jesus. That’s pretty heavy duty metaphysics! And I think it’s a stumbling block to non-Christians. And I think it can lead to an arrogance and dismissal of the the world by those in the Christian fold.

    This might seem blasphemous to some, but just to physically see and know and hear that amazing Jewish rabbi, Jesus, who sweated, got hungry, went to the bathroom, belched, and had all our humanity in him, and say that that not only my fulfillment but fulfillment of all creation was only in “him” would be ridiculous. This would only make sense if you saw through the incarnate Jesus to something that was in a certain sense almost wholly beyond and greater than the human man of the gospels.

    Not to mention the fact that this divine or cosmic Christ that Bonhoeffer takes for granted isn’t the simple, itinerant Hebrew preacher of Mark. That Jesus only begins to appear in John, a book we know came to be much, much later than the Mark gospel, and then in Paul, who some argue adds a whole Hellenic metaphysical take on who Jesus was.

    Those problems aside, I really think Bonhoeffer’s message needs to be used carefully. I love him, and I still know much of his words by heart. But I also know the way he talks can sound like an inside code, an exclusive and exclusionary one at that, and that in preaching the Christ to all manner of creatures, we can’t be too careful or wise or compassionate.

    Whew, well, that was long-winded! Maybe it’s because I know Bonhoeffer so well, that my caveats came up so strongly. I think what you wrote was pretty spot-on, but if I also thought of non-Christians of good heartedness reading this (and maybe this isn’t your audience) I did cringe a bit. Without knowing Christ firsthand, not in the gospels, but in one’s heart, it would certainly be hard for many to grok what Bonhoeffer is saying about Christ being the be-all and end-all of everything.

    Thanks for listening. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t post!


  4. Steve, I appreciate your response. I also think your critiques are fair, in fact my former professor has been educating me in a similar fashion. It is through Christ that all things have their beauty, it’s not that the sciences and music and art are pointless, but that they are transfigured and set right in what we see in the life of the Nazarene, and the metaphysics he establishes.

    I think that an overemphasis on Barth and Bonhoeffer can have the detrimental effect of being a latent deism, one that divorces beauty from the natural world through suspicion of natural revelation to the point of obsession. I’m learning that lesson now.

    I think that what I’m working towards is a fleshed out approach that conveys an appreciation of human achievement and beauty, but also sees the divine glory of self-emptying love as that which is in and culminates human achievement by drawing them into itself.

    I don’t think you’re blasphemous at all. In fact, I have a deep respect for you and the points you make. John was a bit later than the other gospels, and while Paul started writing early he does indeed bring some interesting claims abut Jesus to the table.

    I think I’m working towards moving beyond limitation, and what I hope to do is express a fully fleshed out incarnational theology that draws in Christ, Beauty, the Church, experience and tradition and creates a framework for seeing the world in and with the potential for divine glory, which according to Von Balthasar is synonymous with self-emptying love.

    You’re right to draw out a concern for my audience, it’s pretty varied, a few gnostic Christians, some Buddhists, some Christians, some Atheists, some Agnostics.

    Bonhoeffer is not an easy read, and i could likely do better to interpret his work.

    Thank you for such a well thought out and generous response Steve.


  5. A few thoughts regarding the post:

    The relationship between what is natural and what is truly natural (in Christ alone) is a once simple and very complex. Post Christ, we see that what is truly natural to the human has been revealed to him. Thus, as Pope John Paul II of happy memory says, we are most free when we are limited to Christ and Christ alone. Just as a man may be free to act like a frog, his true freedom (potential) is only tapped into by a union with Christ. So it is with humanity. In addition to your post, nature and freedom must be discussed, for Kant has tainted us all. Americans see Kantian freedom, the freedom of self-determination. While, true freedom is according to our nature, which has been revealed to us by Christ. So, if a father stands on a balcony with his baby girl, can he throw her off? According to Kant, yes – its a question of potential and self-determination. According to Christ, no – because its a question of nature. According to his nature as a loving father, he is not free to throw her off (you are not free is you act contrary to your being)- this example is also key in understanding the “freedom” of God. God is ultimately free, but free according to his nature of being good, perfect, and Being-itself. The debate of natural and Christian is more precisely focused on before Christ or rather the limit of the natural virtues without the theological virtues. Today, the debate is how much weight (if any) the natural virtues have without the theological virtues. St Augustine says they are false virtues, others are a bit more lenient.

    Regarding the comments:

    Its clear that most of the comments come from outside a Catholic ethos, I’ll address some clarifications of common ground.

    The Gospel of St Mark – to compare St Mark’s account with St John’s and boil the former’s to a “humble Jewish rabbi,” is a misunderstanding. It is true that St John is more cosmic, but this is because of the information Mother Mary imparted to him. St Mark’s gospel is broken into two “books,” the former being Christ as Messiah and the latter being Christ as the Son of God. Ironically, a theme is St Mark’s gospel is people misunderstanding who Christ is – even the disciples. Hence, the “Messianic Secret” in St Mark. Christ wants them to be silent and tell no one until they can fully understand. The Climax of the Messiahship is Peter’s confession (8:27-30), yet even after that Peter fails to understand Christ fully. It should be noted this confession is prefaced by a healing of a deaf (7:31) and a healing of the blind (8:22-26), which is seen as Christ (1) being the healer of Isaiah (2) physically demonstrating the need for understanding and knowledge (eyes and ears). The Sonship of Christ is professed be the Centurion (8:15:39), but even he still misunderstands in saying this “was” the son of God. Not until the Resurrection is the Secret of Christ fully understood. Lastly, it should be noted that St Mark attempts to show the divinity of Christ by his complete authority (1) over nature (calming the storm 4:35) (2) over demons/spiritual (casting out of the Legion 5:1) (3) over disease/death (issue of blood and daughter 5:21). St Mark’s entire gospel is geared in revealing who Christ is as the Messiah and the Son of God.

    Metaphysics – dumbed down and attempting to stop being verbose, physics is the study of beings by natural reason, metaphysics is the study of being by natural reason (alone), and the supernatural is a study in both by reason and revealed (faith). Thus, you can see the debate quite clearly in whether there is a Christian metaphysic – I think there is, but it must be deduced from what has been revealed and then the debate rage over how much of what was revealed could be discovered by natural reason. Aristotle is the best example, for his comments of virtue and Creation are the closest we find to Catholicism. Thus, we return again to Eli’s question over the relationship between the natural and the revealed. Simply, it is folly to have the natural without the revealed, but more difficult is the relationship between them.

    Benedicamus Dominus.

    • A worthy response Harrison, thanks.

      The gospel of St. Mark is something I’ve been examining closely and I’m gonna do a series sometime in the future on the overarching themes in Mark. I think many misunderstand the cosmic nature of Mark’s Jesus, and the specifically apocalyptic and eschatological nature of the Jesus we see in his narrative.

      Metaphysics, I can’t wait to come sit in on that class and learn a bit. I’m excited.

      Thanks for your contribution. Seeing as I have no real disagreements with you, at least none that I can see, I’m glad you posted. As I’ve said before, a blog comment from you is like Christmas, I never know what’s about to happen, but it’s always surprising, and almost always good.


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