Sunday, September 8, 2019

Lovings: A Sunday Rumination

     The word love is one of the most overloaded words in the English language. It has more meanings, of more hues and shadings, than Carter has Little Liver Pills. We “love” our spouses, our children, our parents, our homes, our neighborhoods, and our Buick Rivieras. We also “love” sleeping late, Rembrandt, Bach, cherry pie, Villa Bellangelo’s Seyval Blanc, and having our feet rubbed. But we don’t often reflect on what we mean by “love” when we use it...sometimes as we use it.

     Yet there is a common core to all those uses. If it were otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to make sense of all those loves.

     What one “loves,” one values. Moreover, we value it above those things we don’t “love.” Some comparisons are foolish, of course; categories matter. For example, we might “love” Bach and only like Brahms, but it would be absurd to say that we “love” Bach more than cherry pie. (After all, the two can be enjoyed together.)

     What about love of God? Jesus told us that it’s really important, didn’t He?

     But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
     Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

     [Matthew 22:34-40]

     What does love mean in that supremely important context? If love is a conscious action, what are we (supposed to be) doing when we love God? And in light of the phrase “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” when are we supposed to do it?

     Not many persons give this stuff any thought whatsoever. Yes, Christians included. I think it’s one of the reasons people tend to avoid me.

     God is the Supreme Being, the Source of all that exists. To speak of valuing Him sounds a bit presumptuous. Indeed, as He stands outside all categories, we must ask whether “love,” in any of the senses in which we apply the notion to people and things under the veil of Time, can possibly apply to Him, or to our relationship to Him.

     There’s a wealth of insight available from contemplating these questions. They compel us to ponder the characteristics we attribute to God. That’s something else most persons don’t think about. God cannot be defined – definitions are for things that fit within categories – but there are some things we can know about Him. Some we can infer from His position as the Supreme Being and Source; others we can deduce from the nature of the universe He has created for us.

     It doesn’t take long to reach the core of the matter: God, as the Source of all that exists, is also the Source of all that we value. Whatever we value in any person or thing under the veil of Time, we are appreciating His work – and it is appropriate that we thank and praise Him for it.

     Love of God consists in this: that we recognize Him as the Source, that we remain conscious of that fact, and that we express our gratitude to Him in prayer. All values and their enjoyment deserve to be celebrated in this manner: that behind each of them, from the greatest to the least, is His hand.

     This coordinates with another aspect of Man’s relationship to God, our “fear” of Him.

     You’ve heard the expression “God-fearing.” It was once heard much more often than it is today...but I doubt that it was better understood then than it is now.

     To be “God-fearing” is not to cringe away from Him in fear of punishment. That interpretation has never held water. Why would anyone fear his Creator, the Being responsible for his very existence? To create is to love. Is it reasonable to fear what we love?

     Yet generation upon generation of preachers have defined fear of God as the fear of punishment. They did so to induce compliance: not with His laws for a decent life, but with their own preferences and notions of propriety. This perversion of the fear of God constitutes one of the greatest offenses one man could do to another.

     Fear in the theological context really means awe.

     When a properly humble man contemplates the little he knows about God, his overwhelming conviction is of his own littleness. We are all equal in God’s eyes because of that littleness. The greatest among us is sub-microscopic by comparison to Him. At least, I haven’t created any universes lately; have you?

     But in admitting to our littleness we gain a profound appreciation of His regard for us. For He loves us. If not, He would not have created us. He would not have placed us within a lawful universe where we could learn, grow, and prosper. The awe thus inspired gives rise, once more, to gratitude for His gifts, including the forces that correct us when we go astray.

     Thus the love of God and the “fear” of God are seen as one.

     I’m somewhat out of the norm for lay preachers. My need is for comprehension: to understand the wherefores of the great events. Most preachers are uninterested in promoting comprehension. They emphasize obedience: again, far too often obedience to their notions rather than to the two Great Commandments or the Ten Commandments of the Decalogue. The great challenge to the thinking man is to understand why He went to all this trouble. It rises to its apogee in contemplating the Passion and Resurrection of His Son, Jesus of Nazareth. The following scene from The Case For Christ provides the key:

     He so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to preach, suffer and die for our sakes – and by His Resurrection, to provide living proof of His benevolence and the glory that lies beyond the grave.

     May God bless and keep you all.

1 comment:

pc-not said...

Thank you Francis. As one who no longer sits in a pew on a regular basis, I appreciate your Sunday ruminations. Unlike the Leftists, my world view incorporates a strong Christian perspective into my political philosophy. I look forward to the mini sermons you provide.