Christian ethics is as simple as this: love God, love others.
Everything else is commentary.
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.
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.
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.
It is important to recognise the difference between true knowledge and complete knowledge. I know that God loves me truly, but I do not know all there is to know about that. The love of God is unknowable in that sense.
Songs of Innocence: The Divine Image
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every dime
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk, or jew;
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
– William Blake
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
Yesterday I was reading a Crucible article, “Is God as Good as We Think?”, which examined C. S. Lewis’ reflections on grief and God. I was struck by this passage in particular:
…emotional pain and suffering, such as grief or loneliness, can be debilitating though those feelings reflect the attachments we make. One way to avoid grief is not to form attachments and not to love any other creature. This would require denial of our own needs and isolate us from the communities in which we live. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in a poem: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Interestingly, Lewis wrote on 14 July 1960, “One doesn’t realise early in life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy one must be tied.”
This comes very close to explaining why I shifted from Buddhism to Christianity back in my early twenties. Quite simply, I found the path of nonattachment saved me from suffering, sure, but I think Tennyson (and Jesus) had it right. To open ourselves to love we have to open ourselves to loss. And sometimes such openness can be transformative.
“Learning to love the people I don’t like is by far the best way to learn how to love”
Tim Challies – The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion
Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth. (Tremper Longman III – An Introduction to the Old Testament)
What comes to mind when you hear the word “supernatural”? Miraces? Angels? I have to confess that don’t particularly like the S-word, as it sounds a lot more at home in the world of Plato than it does in the world of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
I find this becomes particularly problematic when it comes to the subject of love.
The apostle Paul affirmed, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” If anything were to be regarded as “supernatural” then, should indiscriminate “love” not rank first? If we consider the Spirit to be “supernatural” and the highest mark of the Spirituality to be an outpouring of love, then surely love is as “supernatural” as things come.
And yet, love comes without the Hollywood effects that we have come to associate with the word “supernatural”. I can only conclude then, that our expectations are out of order. Maybe we should re-examine what we mean by the words “supernatural” and “love” so that each are finally recognised as the highest expression of the other.
One of the challenges of church is training to love people whom you have nothing in common with, other than your unity in Christ. This won’t always be the case of course. Hopefully you will come across many others in church whom you have many things in common with. But the irony of church life is this: it is those that have nothing to offer us that, in Christ, have the most to teach us.
“A theology of love cannot afford to be sentimental. It cannot afford to preach edifying generalities about charity, while identifying “peace” with mere established power and legalized violence against the oppressed. A theology of love cannot be allowed to merely serve the interests of the rich and powerful, justifying their wars, their violence and their bombs, while exhorting the poor and underprivileged to practice patience, meekness, longsuffering and to solve their problems, if at all, non-violently.”
Thomas Merton – Faith and Violence
“Song of Songs” by Anna Ruth Henriques
This image was reportedly inspired by Song of Songs 3.
Upon my bed at night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
“I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.”
I sought him, but found him not.
The sentinels found me,
as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
Scarcely had I passed them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
until I brought him into my mother’s house,
and into the chamber of her that conceived me.
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the wild does:
do not stir up or awaken love
until it is ready!