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The Relationship Divide: An Essay on Christian Morality

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.”

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