Friday, December 10, 2010

Love God 3

The bread crumbs back.
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So we are arguing that the dominant characteristic of God for the Wesleyan tradition, at least in terms of how he relates to the creation, is love rather than justice.  We are arguing that God wants everyone to be saved but as sovereign king has decided not to force anyone to be saved.  We are arguing that even when he acts in judgment he primarily does so in hope of redemption--as discipline rather than retribution.  Christians do believe that God can and does act in final judgment, without hope of redemption, but surely this is an act of final recourse for God, one he would prefer not to do.

Our obligation in return is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37).  This is the absolute of absolutes in Christian ethics, one of the two great absolute commands of the Christian life, and indeed, the second actually folds into this first one.  If we love God we will also love our neighbor.  There are no exceptions to these two principles.  There is no circumstance where God would have us not love him or not love our neighbor.

At the same time, the question of how to love God can quickly become rather nebulous ground.  Indeed, it would be easy for a Christian to twist this command in order to violate God's will.  1 John says, "The love of God is this, that we obey his commandments" (1 John 5:3).  Ah, but what are his commandments, says the interpreter, who then goes on to load the first commandment with all sorts of things that violate the second commandment, to justify hatred of one's neighbor.

So let us be clear: love of God will never contradict love of neighbor.  The Parable of the Good Samaritan bids us love our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).  Jesus bids us love our enemy (Matt. 5:43-48).  No one is left.  Any application of Scripture or any Christian system of thought that tries to justify hatred of people, is in conflict with the first and second great commandment.  Love of God can never be used to justify love of neighbor.  We can hate injustice.  We can hate certain ideas.  We can hate sin.  But we must act in love toward all people.

Here it is perhaps important to say that love in the Bible is not a matter of feeling or emotion.  Love has to do with the way we act toward others, both mentally and especially concretely.  We can be angry at another person and yet not sin in our thoughts or actions (Eph. 4:26).  We can thus even be angry at God and not sin as well (cf. Ps. 13:1).  Indeed, if we act in love toward God and others long enough, our feelings will eventually change to follow suit


To love God with all our heart is to "do everything for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).  It is to live according to Colossians 3:17: "whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."  John Wesley and the Wesleyan tradition have historically had a very optimistic view of the degree to which the Holy Spirit wants to empower a believer to love God.  Wesley called it "Christian perfection" and his followers "entire sanctification."  The Wesleyan tradition has taken very seriously the word "everything" in these two verses.

We can debate whether that focus on "everything" became unhealthy at times, leading the introspective Wesley to wonder if he was even a Christian in a moment of doubt late in life.  We split hairs with others over minute questions like whether the sin principle inside us could be entirely eradicated or only suppressed.  We will briefly return to this background in the section below on Christian faithfulness.  Our personal sense is that these were areas where the Wesleyan "system" itself led us down unprofitable paths.

To love God, however, boils down to our choices, both in our minds and actions.  And to love God in everything means that we have no idols, that we have "no other gods before God" (e.g., Exod. 20:3-4).  To love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength is for us never to make a choice with our mind or body that gives greater loyalty to something or someone else other than God.

A distinctive of the Wesleyan tradition is our optimism about the degree to which God wants to empower us to fulfill this principle through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We think a believer might from this day forward consistently, perhaps even without exception, act in this way in mind and body for the rest of their lives--and do so with joy.  This is the essence of what our tradition has meant by entire sanctification.

5 comments:

Michael Gormley said...

Dear Ken,

THE HOLY SPIRIT

Catholics certainly believe in the individual's infilling with the Holy Spirit, but we hold this in balance with the equally important truth that the Church herself is inspired and filled and guided by the Holy Spirit.

The Church is the Body of Christ on earth, and as such is a living, moving, breathing, Spirit filled organism--against which the gates of hell will never prevail.

It is this Spirit filled Church which provides the balance and ballast for our own individual experience of the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

It is the Spirit-filled Church which provides the correction and qualification of our claims. It is the Spirit-filled Church which validates God's guidance in our lives and it is the Spirit filled lives of the saints, the teaching of the Church and the liturgy of the Church which deepen, broaden, complete and sacramentally seal the personal infilling of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit will not be subject to human reason. This is the fundamental problem with Protestantism. The intellect becomes one’s compass for truth, instead of the Living Voice of the Holy Ghost.

The proper use of reason is to believe in and serve the Divine Revelation revealed by the Holy Ghost in the Church, not to criticize what is revealed endlessly until you satisfy your intellect.

The intellect is only perfected after it has accepted the divine truths that God reveals to it.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks Michael, although I'm not quite sure what to do with it. I personally think the Wesleyan tradition has more in common with the Catholic tradition than other "high Protestant" traditions. For one, we have a greater optimism and expectation of works in a Christian's life.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ken,
Others justify doing injustice to another because one is to love God first and foremost. One couldn't act in a kind way, because "God is angry" at the "sin". Or, one can't "take a break from teaching their Bible Study" to see another who'd travelled a long way, because "first things, must come first", or, they believe you don't raise your children right, so they make charges because they "know" how one must raise children, etc.. So, what does another "get", just what the "righteous" think is appropriate; ignored, dismissed, judged, criticized, and discipline.

It leaves one with distaste, if not outright " scalded conscience" and broken heart.

And when one tries to "turn the other cheek", forgive, and "do good", one comes to a point of "self annihlation", where there is nothing left to give.

I don't have any desire to "love God", because that is what "loving God" has come to mean, "self-annihlation". One doesn't need to exist, when one is "invisible". This feeling is the stuff of emotional suicide, because of the self-hatred, anger and self-rejection.

It sickens me because "I had hoped that I mattered", period. My existence itself, not some "work" I was to do. When one comes from divorce and has internalized that one's birth should not have happened because the marriage should not have happened, then....finding a place where you belonged, mattered, and were significant was important in my understanding of/to faith. This is a natural human need, not some spiritualized form of "loving God".

So, can anyone understand an "objective" way to judge "loving God"? It is "loving neighbor", but, we will disagree as to how to carry that out, politically. And that is the stuff of our political climate today!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And I don't want to "go back" to the simple naive belief "that God loves you" for "healing". It is an unreal "hope", that in reality must be met with real world relationships.

Christians need to understand that they are "real people" and acknowledge their needs, struggles, crisis, dreams, desires, and experiences. And Christian "needs,struggles, crisis, dreams, desires and experiences", are not any different from any other "real person".

The political realm is where real world people, problems, and policy happens. And this is where any "real person" is supposed to make a difference.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ken,
I am not writing this to be "the focus", although I know those that read this will be focusing on it...I am writing this because I believe that humans are much more than biological, and because I think humans interact with their environments differently than just what an observer would judge...meaning that "meaning' to the indivdiual is personal or relative; to context, to individual differences, individual past experiences, individual preferences, individual interests, etc....Experience becomes extremely personal, because experience is more than the historical facts of "what happened", but also experience is interpreted by these various differences....

Liberty means that there can be no way to plan another's life, because the individual themself is the only one to know what "message" will be communicated, and what future goals, hopes or values might limit commitment to such "social engineering"....

Our "free society" allows individual differences, so that individuals can choose what would "match" their individual purposes....

Collectivists societies do not value the individual in such a way, as they understand a unified or universal way, which is systemized. It becomes beauracratic and the individual becomes devalued for the "whole". But, what is the "whole", society? Society is the result of consenting individuals that form the social contract, isn't it? That is in free societies...

I could go on, but I have taken up too much time and space...