Recently Paul Molnar and I debated a bit about the nature of divine freedom. I think Alan Lewis puts the issue perfectly in his amazing book, Between Cross and Resurrection:
“God is free, not as one who could do otherwise, but as the one above all who can do no other. Self-bound to one sole way of being, God is committed, necessarily but thus freely, to the cognate course of action. God’s lordship in bowing to the contradiction of the godless cross and godforsaken grace does not reside, as Barth occasionally and illogically asserts, in a prior self-sufficiency and secure immutability, but — as he more often understood and later followers more emphatically underscored — in the uncoerced impulse to self-consistency: love’s determination not to be deflected from its purposes but to flourish and perfect itself through willing self-surrender. What judges us as burdensome imperative illuminates God as free but binding indicative: the truth — for our Creator and therefore for ourselves — that only one who gives up life discovers and fulfills it. On such a basis alone can we understand how the cross and grave truly reveal God’s inmost triune life.” (p. 211-12)
God’s freedom consists not in an abyss of infinite potentiality, in an endless array of unconstrained options that are open to God. No, God’s freedom simply is what we behold in the event of Jesus’ apocalypse: his cross, burial, and resurrection. God is not free in that God could have done other than this. God is free in that God did in fact do this thing. The resurrection is God’s freedom. Any definition other than this must, inevitably find its source of theological knowledge somewhere other than in God in Christ.
In his book, Bonhoeffer as Martyr, Craig Slane makes the following argument:
“Martyrdom is a circumlocution of sorts for the quite personal and fatal consequences of the ontological collision between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. As a collision of kingdoms, martyrdom is, and always has been, rife with political overtones. And as contemporary martyrs have shown, seldom is it ‘neat around the edges.’ On a clearly reasoned yet sophisticated theological foundation, Bonhoeffer freely brought his faith into the polis–brought his confession into action–entering into solidarity with and sacrificing himself for the Jews of the Holocaust, and thus, like Jesus, he laid down his life for others. I conclude, therefore that Bonhoeffer deserves to be styled a true martyr of the church.”
This reflection is helpful in that it directs attention away from the subjective intentions, feelings, and alleged motives of potential martyrs. Too often we embrace a highly instrumentalistic and moralistic notion of martyrdom. To be martyred is to be killed because of one’s own moral effort in regard to our confession. We are killed because of our explicit and intentional efforts to bear witness to Christ through not compromising our confession, not denying Christ, and so on.
However, as Slane shows, though the lens of Bonhoeffer, this notion is all wrong. Martyrdom is not about moral resoluteness or the absence of compromise. Clearly Bonhoeffer did view himself as compromised and was plagued with crucial questions of moral doubt throughout his life of striving for faithfulness to Christ. What makes Bonhoeffer a martyr is that the church has discerned in his life and death, the collision between God’s kingdom and the powers of Satan. Insofar as anyone dies in that conflict, regardless of their intentions, compromised status, or moral incoherence, their lives become a witness, martus. To be a martyr is precisely not to perform a valiant moral act, but rather to be caught up in the reality of Gods’ kingdom in its irruption into the world. To live and die martyrologically is to be drawn, by Christic and pneumatic grace, into participation into the Trinitarian life of God’s kingdom. As such, we can never martyr ourselves (against the Islamic notion thereof); we can only hope to become martyrs, hope that our living and our dying will be found in the realm of the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of Satan.