The Relationship Divide: An Essay on Christian Morality
Br. Frederick Cutter, OblSB
Knights of Columbus Council 2838
Lector Reading for 18 March 2014
Towards the end of his life the influential Protestant theologian Karl Barth was once asked what the most profound theological concept he had ever attempted to wrap his mind around. Without a beat, he replied: “Jesus loves me.”
We are a social species. Anthropologists study our social nature from an evolutionary construct, but the scientist fails to recognize the true source of this nature.
For it is written: “God said, let us make man in our image.”
Our Nicene Profession of Faith identifies our belief about who and more importantly what God is: The very nature of God within the Trinity is that of a relationship.
Theologians have spent twenty centuries contemplating the mystery of this relationship. Nearly every heresy the Church fought in its early history began with an attempt to demystify God’s relational nature within himself.
God breathed life into man. This act separated us from the rest of creation, for it imparted God’s nature within us. We are made in his likeness. What is this likeness? It is God’s relational identity: our desire to commune with Him and with each other. No wonder marriage is the very first sacrament in Scripture. No wonder every culture in history not only had some understanding of a transcendent divinity, but communed with that divinity.
God’s desire to create through relationships was similarly imparted into us. We create civilizations, corporations, music, literature, art. Why? To relate with and within our world. We create in a way unlike any other species. We procreate God’s likeness into our future generations.
Our fractured relationship with each other wounds our spirit, much like our sinful nature fractures our relationship with God. Why else is divorce so destructive to the spirit of a young child? We confess our sins through the Church, not because God needs to hear us confess our sins, but because we need to reconcile our relationship with each other as much as, if not more so than we need to with God. He knows our sin. Scripture commands us: “Confess your sins to each other,” for “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of our unrighteousness”
We govern each other within society because we recognize the necessity of enforcing the ideality of a full communion with each other. That is why we govern morality: laws against murder, theft, and treason are designed to prevent a fracture of the society in which we live. People who say we can’t legislate morality are out of touch with the reality of exactly who and what they really are.
For all the imagery of fire and brimstone and torture, Hell possesses only two theological attributes: it is eternally private. It is private, for we lack communion with our Creator and each other. This lack of communion is the culmination of our willful desire to break communion with our Creator. “Depart from me, you wicked” are the words we fear most to hear at our judgment. Hell is the antithesis of what Heaven represents: eternal communion with our Creator and each other. The ultimate suffering of hell is that we are no longer a we, but an I suffering eternal loneliness. Erich Fromm was a mid-twentieth century social psychologist who studied the clinical nature of evil. As he once so famously said, “evil is an I-I relationship.”
As we progress through our Lenten observance, let us contemplate the mystery of God’s relationship within himself and with us, a mystery we cannot begin to understand. God willed his only Son to die for our sins, so that we may be reconciled back into eternal communion. This relationship is the foundation for everything we believe as Christians. It is our foundation of stone upon which we build our lives with each other within the Church.
And this relationship begins with the words, “Jesus loves me.”
Faith is the foundation of life, for we achieve nothing without it. Observe every great achievement, accomplishment, sacrifice, and you will find faith behind it as the driving action. Thus, there is a strong positive correlation between faith and achievement.
This is an intellectual, abstract faith in the capabilities of the human spirit. It comes from within the heart, and cannot be measured or quantified. The quality of this faith depends on the quality of one’s thoughts and spirit. Observe the reasons behind any failure and we will often find the lack of faith a significant factor. Faith can resurrect one from despair and failure. Without faith a person might as well be dead, for life has no hope for improvement, no hope for success, no hope for anything.
Faith drove Alexander the Great to conquer the known world. Discoveries and advancements in science and technology were driven by the faith of pioneers. Edison made thousands of attempts with the lamp. Despite the insurmountable cultural and social odds, Mother Teresa and her followers served the dying and impoverished of Calcutta through faith that their actions mattered.
What is faith?
A dictionary answer might be: “Confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability. Belief that is not based on proof. Belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion. Belief in anything, as a code of ethic standards of merit. A system of religious belief.”
This dictionary citation captures the whole of humanity. There is not a person alive that doesn’t exercise faith in at least one of these capacities. However, I find it interesting that the antagonist to religious faith argues that faith is not rational, that to accept “faith” in the religious sense is to abandon reason, that to do so turns back the clock on a society advancing on the success of scientific reason.
I’d only want to turn back the clock if the clock is keeping bad time, which in this sense it is. And we have already seen that, in a larger sense, faith is the foundation for all that we have attained as a society. Faith is no more unreasonable than love – for though faith often transcends reason, so does love. And I have yet to meet a nonbeliever who rejects love on the same “rational” terms as faith.
So once we start down this road, where shall it end? Many “believe” in vibrating strings on a subatomic scale that form the building blocks for matter, and they believe in a mysterious “dark” matter and energy that permeates the known universe which cannot be observed or quantified. What good does this knowledge provide to the daily interior life of the human spirit, whether or not it is “true” or “correct” as a model?
I find it interesting so many are willing to believe in the created things of this universe without acknowledging a creator, the same source of the faith that drives us to knowledge of creation.
A retiring medical officer I served with on both my deployments will be publishing a book detailing his observations of the Iraq war. He asked me to review it and perhaps add some of my own experiences and observations.
One of his chapters regards a wonderful young Iraqi man, who operated a successful cigar shop outside our camp in 2005. The chapter ends with his murder by insurgents. Even more sadly, it was done within sight of his own young son.
One of the few lights penetrating the darkness of that country has been extinguished.