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    Van Gogh painting of a tree in the sunset

    The True School of Love

    Disciples of Jesus must embrace the double-edged sword of the gospel.

    By Henri J. M. Nouwen

    September 24, 2021
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    • Rebecca Hawkins

      I have always loved reading Henri’s writing. The Wounded Healer, Beyond The Mirror, and others, and his life story. Yes, I wept when I read the book sharing his last days. And Jesus, A Gospel.

    This is the from the foreword to the book Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind, an anthology of J. Heinrich Arnold’s writings and letters.

    Discipleship is a tough book. As I began reading it, Heinrich Arnold’s words touched me as a double-edged sword, calling me to choose between truth and lies, salvation and sin, selflessness and selfishness, light and darkness, God and demon. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be confronted in such a direct way, and I discovered some resistance in myself. I want the good news of the Gospel to be gentle, consoling, comforting, and to offer inner peace and harmony.

    But Arnold reminds me that the peace of the Gospel is not the same as the peace of the world, that the consolation of the Gospel is not the same as the consolation of the world, and that the gentleness of the Gospel has little to do with the “free for all” attitude of the world. The Gospel asks for a choice, a radical choice, a choice that is not always praised, supported, and celebrated.

    Still, Arnold’s writing is not harsh, unbending, fanatical, or self-righteous. To the contrary, it is full of love. Tough love, but real love. It is this love that flows from the broken heart of Jesus. What makes Arnold’s words so healing is that they are not based on an idea, an ideology, or a theory, but on an intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Christ, is in the center of all the suggestions, advice, and care expressed in these reflections. This is truly a Christ-centered book.

    Van Gogh painting of a sower in the sunset

    Vincent Van Gogh, Sower at Sunset

    Heinrich Arnold does not speak in his own name. He speaks in the name of Jesus. He has heard clearly the words of Paul to Timothy: “Before God, and before Christ Jesus, who is to be the judge of the living and the dead, I charge you, in the name of his appearing and his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, give encouragement – but do all with patience and with care to instruct” (2 Tim. 4:1–2).

    It is Arnold’s deep rootedness in Jesus Christ that makes him a very wise, a very safe, and a very ­challenging guide in our spiritual journey. But there is more: his rootedness is not simply a rootedness in the Christ who lived long ago; it is a rootedness in the Christ who is present today in the life of the community of faith.

    Arnold is not a pious, sentimental guide. Every word he speaks comes from his experience in community, where discipleship is lived. It is in community that we are tested and purified. It is in community that we learn what forgiveness and healing are all about. It is in community that we learn who our neighbor is. Community is the true school of love. Arnold lived community all of his life. He knew its demands and its rewards. Most of all, he knew that it is in community that we encounter the Christ of the Gospel.

    I am very grateful for this book. It is a prophetic book in a time in which few people dare to speak unpopular but truly healing words.

    I pray that those who read this book won’t be afraid to be confronted, and I trust that the word of God that comes to them through it will bring true comfort, true consolation, true hope, and true courage.

    Contributed By Henri Nouwen Henri J. M. Nouwen

    Henri J. M. Nouwen was an internationally loved and renowned priest, professor, and author. He wrote more than forty books offering spiritual guidance and direction.

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