Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his Life Together that the harmony we often envision and seek in the Christian community is not all that likely or perhaps even possible. In fact, he says, you and I have no right or reason to be disillusioned when such harmony doesn't meet our expectations. For it is somehow in this very experience of our community not meeting our own hopes and dreams that we actually finally discover our 'life together' … not because we necessarily like one another or agree with one another…but because of the ways in which our struggles enable us to see more clearly and to be all the more grateful for what Christ has done for us. Christ died for forgiveness. With all our hurts and sometimes our hurting one another, this is where God put us and this is who God put us with to learn from and to grow with. And it is in our differences and in our struggles that Jesus speaks of forgiveness and helps to make our Gospel reading more relevant at this time, for me at least. Matthew 18:21-35
True forgiveness is best experienced when we can examine our own faults and recognize our need for God... which is what our struggles also do. Bonhoeffer's points out: “Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and try to realize it. But God's grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves.” (pp. 26-27)
Bonhoeffer is saying that it is in our differences, our struggles and our hurts that we encounter and receive God's grace and gift most completely. It is then that we are able to see Christ in our neighbors. It is then that we are able to be loved in spite of ourselves. It is then when we know most deeply our own need for God.
Now it is possible that in Bonhoeffer's time and place, church conflict was more virulent than it is today. Although there were times when all I wanted to do was to slide into a pew near the back and be soothed by the familiar strains of the liturgy, all the while hoping that no one would notice me or ask more from me. Still, most of the time it has been important to me to look for and experience that sense of connection to others. And yet when I have done so, when I have allowed myself to go more deeply in relationship with those God has put me with, I found these words of Bonhoeffer particularly relevant: “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes the destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. (p. 27)
What an important reminder it is to me to know that just because I am hurt or disappointed does not mean that this group of God's people is not of God's design. And when I have had the patience to live through the struggle, I have learned over and over again that over time and hard earned shared experience the connections do go deeper than anything I would have put together on my own, with my all too human tendency to surround myself with people who think and do as I think and do.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, Life Together, The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community)