Mining for meaning

"(God) made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ." Ephesians 1. 9-10


Jens Zimmermann commends Paul Ricoeur's idem-ipse continuum, as the lens through which a better understanding of the character (identity) of fellow German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is revealed.


Bonhoeffer received a privileged upbringing in an upper class and talented German family, who nevertheless sat loose to their abilities and accomplishments. Inclining more to his mother's aesthetic nature than the austere, scientific bent of his father and brothers, Dietrich nevertheless emerged with a strong self-identity (his idem), secure in who he was, widely admired and with a bright future.


The Second World War and his involvement in the conspiracy to kill Hitler, resulted in his imprisonment and, perhaps more upsetting to the man himself, raised questions over his personal integrity under pressure (his ipse).

Could it be that his ipse (character under pressure) was at variance with his idem (underlying personality)? Bonhoeffer's letter from prison reveal that he was not unaware of a potential personality crisis.


He appears to have avoided breaking down by drawing on the next stage of Ricoeur's analysis: his relation to another. Yet, at a bound, he both overlaps Ricoeur and confounds Descartes, in that he does not find his identity in relation to other people (Ricoeur), nor within himself (Descartes) but in relation to God and in particular to God's revelation in Jesus Christ, whose entry into creation and whose life as the perfect human and then whose death resurrection all conspire to transform the lives of those who embrace him as Saviour and Lord.


Christ's redeeming work takes all the broken, weak and messy aspects of our lives and re-members them, restoring their - and therefore our - meaning, purpose and integrity. In the process we receive a new identity, which is consistent with who were are but locates us no longer in our old selves but in the new person we become in Christ.

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