Here is an example of Bonhoeffer at his very best in creating a pastoral christology that dethrones the ego and makes space for the other, in whom we meet Christ.
Because Christ stands between me and an other, I must not long for unmediated community with that person. As only Christ was able to speak to me in such a way that I was helped, so others too can only be helped by Christ alone. However, this means that I must release others from all my attempts to control, coerce, and dominate them with my love. In their freedom from me, other persons want to be loved for who they are, as those for whom Christ became a human being, died, and rose again, as those for whom Christ won the forgiveness of sins and prepared eternal life.
Because Christ has long since acted decisively for other Christians, before I could begin to act, I must allow them the freedom to be Christ's. They should encounter me only as the person they already are for Christ. This is the meaning of the claim that we can encounter others only through the mediation of Christ. Self centred love constructs its own image of other persons, about what they are and what they should become. It takes the life of the other person into its own hands. Spiritual love recognises the true image of the other person as seen from the perspective of Jesus Christ. It is the image Jesus Christ has formed and wants to form in all people.
(Life Together. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Works, Fortress, 1996, 43-4)
The context within which Bonhoeffer wrote these lines makes them naive, idealistic, and the route to spiritual despair. Or so it seems. Except, Bonhoeffer had a profound grasp of the spiritual nature of the conflicts in which the Church was involved. He understood that Christians struggled not against flesh and blood, nor land and blood, but against spiritual wickedness, principalities and powers, in the high places. He self-consciously and with theological and ethical deliberation opposed ideological coercion with a way of seeing the other person that had roots in the eternal purposes of God in Christ. Christians love because He first loved us. The contrast between self love which dominates the other, and Christ love which allows the other to freely be what Christ calls them to be, could not be more absolute, final and non-negotiable; it is founded on the incarnation, atonement and resurrection events of God's saving purpose.
Therefore in the immediate context of the Seminary, such words, ideas and convictions as those expressed in this passage, were a call to the seminarians to live out a love that is respectful of the other as one for whom Christ died; more generally in a Germany wracked with pressures of social coercion, ideological bullying and physical intimidation ranging from ostracism to concentration camps, Bonhoeffer was constructing a theological anthropopology, rooted in a Christology that preserved the worth of every human individual. That explicit Christological claim, Bonhoeffer opposed to all other claims, including and especially, the claims of National Socialism and Hitler as its demi-god. Life Together is a powerful, and pastoral theological rebuttal of all human claims on the human soul, and on the soul of his German compatriots.
Often enough Bonhoeffer's late theology is called revolutionary. The theological anthropology, incarnational Christology and divine ownership of the redeemed, which give Life Together its radical Christian demand are themselves entirely subversive of all forms of earthly claims to dominance. This is no wee book of monastic spirituality, which is sometimes the way it is read and praised today. It is a book about developing tough virtues, and Christlike love, and a faithful Christ enabled kenosis, nurtured in prayer and the Word, that is able to defy the seductions and oppressions of political and military power. It may be that Bonhoeffer's relevance for today lies as much in those demands for Christlike behaviour and dispositions towards the other, as in the more obvious and overt challenges of the later letters to Bethge.