Christian ethics isn’t complicated

Christian ethics is as simple as this: love God, love others.

Everything else is commentary.

Love Others

Physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, verbal and mental abuse, these are all spoken against by Jesus and the prophets as they violate the command to love others. This command is pretty open ended too, extending even to enemies (see Matthew 5:43-48) and nonhuman others (see Proverbs 12:10). If, in your practice and teaching of Christian ethics, you forget to love others, you’ve missed the point.

Love God

The corollary to this is loving God. If even our enemies, who’ve done nothing to bless us, are to be treated in loving ways, how much more should we treat God, who’s the source of all blessing, with love and respect? When we misrepresent God, intentionally or otherwise, or try to turn God into a mascot to serve our own purposes, is that not a form of abuse too? Indeed it is, and quite a serious form of abuse when you think carefully about it. God is so foundational. Unfortunately that’s all too common, even amongst those who claim to love God. That’s missing the point too.

Just because

But there’s another way we can miss the point. If our motivation to love God and love others is based on what we get out of it ourselves, if it’s based on some sort of gaining idea, whether a desire for salvation, or even something as innocuous as a good feeling, we’ve missed the point again. True love is a giving orientation, not a gaining orientation. We’re already loved by God; we should love just because. In Christian ethics, rules should be understood within the context of relationship; our behaviour should be an extension of our beholding of God. Love without holding back, because love is what it is.

Moral Foundation Theory and the Bible

Moral foundations theory is a social psychological theory intended to explain variation in human moral reasoning. It was first proposed by the psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham. In more recent times it has been used to explain the differences between progressive, conservative, and libertarian views based on the different relative weights each group gives to the different moral foundations. Below I have selected verses from the Bible that correspond to each of the 6 moral foundations.

Care vs harm

Proverbs 12:10 – The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

Genesis 50:20 – You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Fairness vs cheating

Leviticus 19:15 – Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.

Genesis 31:7 – yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me.

Loyalty vs betrayal

1 Kings 12:20 – When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

Proverbs 11:13 – A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.

Authority vs disrespect

Leviticus 19:3 – Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God.

1 Timothy 6:2 – Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers.

Purity vs degradation

Titus 1:15 – To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.

Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Liberty vs oppression

Galatians 5:1 – It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Deuteronomy 26:7 – Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil, and oppression

All nations welcome

When it comes to the nations of this world, God doesn’t play favourites.

I love this vision from the climax of the book of Revelation: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.” (Revelation 21:22-26)

On the person of the Holy Spirit

I’ve noticed that discussions on the Trinity between Muslims and Christians tend to focus on God and Jesus. But it makes no sense to talk of “Trinity” without also focusing on the third person: the Holy Spirit.

In the book of Acts there is an incident where Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus, equates lying to the Holy Spirit with lying to God. Peter says, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

Elsewhere in scripture it’s made clear that the Holy Spirit can be grieved and blasphemed against. It’s for this and many other reasons that Christians affirm the Holy Spirit is personal and relational, not merely an impersonal force or an emanation of the power of God. We believe that through the Holy Spirit, God guides us, empowers us, and sanctifies us. No discussion of the Trinity could be complete without the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus.

Praying through our senses

Some creative prayer ideas from Methodist.org.uk:

1/ Rock of salvation

Hold stones or glass beads to symbolise a hard problem; place it near a cross.

2/ Light of the World

Scented tea lights placed in front of a newspaper (to pray for those in the news)

3/ Fruit of the Spirit

Drink fruit juices which have been re-labelled joy, peace, love or patience, and as you drink ask God for that gift of the Spirit

Fertility and Divinity

With the grass being so lush and green this Beltane, with all the heat and rain, I’ve been meditating on YHWH as the source of life and fertility.

In the process I’ve stumbled across a critique of Karl Barth by Walter Brueggemann, where he suggests Barth overplayed his hand in depicting YHWH as god of history in contrast to the Canaanite deities as gods of fertility. He particularly draws attention to Genesis 8:22, Psalm 104:27-30, and Hosea 2 as examples where YHWH is depicted as guarantor of the cycles of the seasons and the fruits of the earth.

In the process I have also been reflecting on places where YHWH is depicted as receptive rather than active, playing host rather than guest, inviting outsiders in. In particularly I’ve been reflecting on the YHWH of Jesus, who was often a quite motherly father.