"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Monday, September 5, 2016

Blessed Are Those Who Unconditionally Love

In many churches identifying themselves as Christian there is a great deal of talk about repentance and sin. Repentance, of course, is directly related to the sins we have committed. One must repent of one’s sins. In several churches this is even formalized by Confession, wherein one reveals his or her sins to a priest in a spirit of repentance.
 Repentance, of course, is essentially the action of being sincerely regretful or remorseful for one’s sins. Common synonyms for repentance are: remorse, contrition, penitence, regret, ruefulness, remorsefulness, shame. From the biblical perspective however, repentance additionally takes on the meaning of turning from evil (sin), and determination to turn to the good (God’s revealed will, typically referred to as His Commandments).
The idea is that "each person who turns to God in genuine repentance and faith will be saved." To repent and to convert involves obedience to God's revealed will, placing trust in him rather than our own understanding, turning away from all evil and ungodliness (that which is unlike God Himself).
While all of this is very good and essential, without a clear understanding of God’s will, His Commandments, how does one truly know what to repent from, what he or she ought to Confess?
There are, of course, as a popular guide, the “Ten Commandments.” In the biblical Old Testament Book of Exodus, we read:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
“You shall not kill.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”[1]
The Ten Commandments are so ubiquitous that they have been engraved in stone, by those identifying themselves as Christians, many times since Mount Sinai, even up to more recent times. Yet, as people identifying themselves as Christians they ostensibly identify themselves foremost with the teachings of Christ—hence the appellation “Christian”—found not in the Old Testament, but the New Testament. With this is mind perhaps we should turn to the New Testament to see if Jesus Christ spoke of the Commandments of God, whom He apparently was/is. His being One of the Godhead Himself any commentary He may have made of His Commandments would be of ultimate supremacy.
There are actually various references found in the Gospels that rather clearly state, and in very concise terms, God’s Commandments against which we might measure the “sinfulness” or “righteousness” of our own actions. In the Gospel according to Matthew we read[2]:
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 [literally “just like it’” or “of equal importance”], thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
When Jesus Christ said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” He was literally saying that everything revealed in the books of the Old Testament was summed up in this brief answer he gave to the questioning lawyer.
We can find similar passages in the Gospel according to Mark[3] and that of Luke[4]. It is in the latter Gospel where we find the questioner, ”Seeking to justify himself,” ask, “And who is my neighbor?” While the man’s motives in asking the question may have been less than stellar, Christ’s answer is very important to us all.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” [Notice that in this passage the commandment is one.]
And he said unto him, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”
But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
And Jesus answering said, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest [obviously a self and church-proclaimed follower of God] that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
“And likewise a Levite [a member of the Hebrew tribe of Levi, especially of that part of it that provided assistants to the priests in the worship of God in the Jewish temple], when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
“But a certain Samaritan [loathed by the Jews, the “true” followers of God in their own understanding], as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the next day when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, ‘Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.’”
“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?”
And he said, “He that shewed mercy on him.”
Then said Jesus unto him, “Go, and do thou likewise.”
These verses in the Gospel according to Luke clarify other verses flowing from the lips of Christ found in the Gospel. The following are but a small example.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”[5]
A nearly identical passage is found in the Gospel according to Luke (Lk. 6:27-38). And finally,
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”[6]
On the actual state of Christianity “since Christianity became politically respectable,” the writer Wendell Berry, on this matter, says. “They [we] have justified their [our] disobedience on the grounds of the impracticality of obedience, though we have little proof of the practicality of disobedience, and precious few examples of obedience. The implication invariably has been that for a few feckless worshippers of God to obey Christ’s commandments may be alright, but in practical matters… we will obey Caesar.”[7]
So, the commandment against which we measure sin and, thus, the need for repentance, is crystal clear. All that is actually left is for those of us who identify ourselves as “Christian” [“For don’t we know that everybody named Rose smells like a rose?”][8] is to embrace the benchmark set by God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

[1] Ex. 20:2-17.
[2] Mt. 22:34-40.
[3] Mk. 12:28-34.
[4] Lk. 10:27.
[5] Mt. 5:38-45.
[6] Jn. 14:15.
[7] Wendell Berry, Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Christ’s Teachings About Love, Compassion & Forgiveness (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2005) pp. 5-6.
[8] Ibid. p. 4.

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