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Learn to Do Good- Discipleship Guide

AM I MY SIBLING’S KEEPER?

In the labyrinth of human relationships and social structures, one question always presents itself before us, echoing the ancient inquiry of Cain in the Book of Genesis: "Am I my brother's keeper?" This question, though millennia-old, remains relevant today as we navigate the complexities of justice, community, and individual responsibility. It compels us to examine the depth of our commitment to one another. It challenges our understanding of what it means to live the reality of the original goodness breathed into our being.

One of the pivotal challenges in embodying a life of justice is our collective failure to recognize the inherent divinity within every individual. It’s possible this challenge stems from a flawed assumption that there are limitations to God’s power to redeem and renew, or worse yet, a thought that the divine image within humanity can be erased. But the essence of our shared humanity is precisely this divine image, offered to us as an unparalleled gift, a testament to the boundless creativity, love, and sovereignty of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the renowned theologian who confronted the tyrannies of his time with the strength of his convictions, illuminates the profound reality of living in community. Bonhoeffer reminds us that God, in his infinite wisdom, created others without consulting our creative direction and personal preferences. He tells us that God did not entrust others into our care so we may seek to dominate and control them, but for the explicit purpose that in living together, we might find above others the image of the One who created us all.1 This perspective demands a radical shift in our approach toward others, urging us to see beyond our preconceptions and biases to recognize the unique image of God in each person.

Bonhoeffer’s insight dismantles the illusion of superiority and control we might be tempted to assert over others. Instead, he invites us to a humble acknowledgment of God’s sovereign creation, reminding us that the divine image in each person defies our expectations and transcends our understanding. Each individual reflects God’s image in a manner that is distinct and unprecedented, challenging us to expand our hearts and minds beyond familiar contours.

God’s journey with the people of Israel, through the giving of the Law, helped them to see this reality more clearly. A people who had lived in bondage, received freedom, and journeyed in the wilderness, seeking to arrive physically, mentally, and spiritually in a new home. The giving of the Law offered new guidelines for their interactions with God, self, and others. This would prove to be a long and challenging journey, for it is always easier to ignore the needs of others and care exclusively for oneself. This challenge becomes even more apparent when we create categories to differentiate ourselves from others.

Bonhoeffer is again helpful in reminding us of the need to expand our horizons. He says, “I can never know beforehand how God’s image should appear in others. That image always manifests a completely

1 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together (pp. 72-73). Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition.

new and unique form that comes solely from God’s free and sovereign creation.”2 This statement encapsulates the mystery and beauty of divine creative love, affirming that each person’s existence is a unique, unrepeatable expression of the divine image.

The appearance of God’s image in others may confound us, appearing "strange" or "ungodly" to our limited perceptions. However, this strangeness challenges us to confront our own prejudices and to cultivate a more profound sense of compassion and understanding.

In grappling with the question, "Am I my brother’s keeper?" we are called not merely to acknowledge our interconnectedness but to actively nurture and protect the divine spark within each person. Our responsibility extends beyond passive recognition; it demands an active engagement with the world, advocating for justice, practicing compassion, and embodying the love of Christ.

  1. How does the ancient inquiry of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" relate to contemporary issues of justice, community, and individual responsibility?

  2. Discuss the implications of the "collective failure to recognize the inherent divinity within every individual," as mentioned above. How does this perception affect our interactions within our communities?

  3. How does Dietrich Bonhoeffer's perspective on community and the divine image in others challenge our preconceptions and biases?

  4. Reflect on the concept that each individual reflects God’s image in a unique and unprecedented manner. How should this understanding shape our relationships and actions toward others, particularly those with whom we disagree?

  5. In what ways does the giving of the Law to the people of Israel illustrate the challenges of living in community and respecting each person's inherent divinity?

  6. As mentioned above, the appearance of God’s image in others may seem "strange" or "ungodly" to our limited perceptions. How can confronting our own prejudices and expanding our understanding of the divine image lead to a more profound sense of compassion and justice?

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