The first rule of Christian ethics, according to Bonhoeffer, is that there is no such thing as Christian ethics. The knowledge of good and evil is a result of the fall, and the return to God means abandoning all our knowledge of good and evil. Fortunately, there’s still enough to talk about for a whole book on Christian ethics, which Bonhoeffer called, imaginatively, Ethics. Unfortunately, Ethics was never finished. This is sad for two reasons: firstly because we’ll never know quite what Bonhoeffer wanted the book to be, and secondly because different editions arrange the sections in different orders, which is terrible confusing when you’re trying to do a bibliography. On the plus side, it does mean there’s lots of scope for arguments about how it ought to be arranged, which keeps theologians busy and out of trouble.
If knowledge of good and evil is a bad thing, then what are we aiming for instead? Bonhoeffer argues that if the Fall had never happened, human beings would never have known about good and evil because they would never have known anything except God. The knowledge of good and evil means that we start to see ourselves not in terms of our relationship to God, but in terms of our capacity for good and evil. We start to see ourselves as separate from God, as our own origin of good and evil, and start to think of ourselves as our own creators. Our likeness to God becomes a likeness we have stolen, not a likeness that God has given to us. Instead of trusting God to show us what sort of people we ought to be, we set ourselves up as our own judges.
Shame is the sign of this disconnection from God: it is our recognition that we are estranged from our origin. We become ashamed of our nakedness, and shame leads to covering and concealment. Conscience is the sign of our disunion with ourselves: it pretends to be the voice of God, but instead encourages us to set ourselves up as our own judges. Humans were never intended to have a conscience, to feel shame, to know the difference between good and evil: we were made, instead, to know only God, to love only God, and to see ourselves only as God sees us.