If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me, because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love and manifest to him.John 14:15-21
This struck me as speaking directly to some of the issues raised by Mad Priest about morality (see below). It also reminded me of an exchange Mimi and I had awhile back about reading St. John as a poetic expression of deep and profound spiritual truths rather than a theological tract.
I think that people look for meaning or purpose in their lives based on what they've already internalized as to what is right and wrong, good and bad, purposeful and frivolous. What religion gives is not simply morality and ethics (though indeed religion may be the means by which a society or culture collects, records, and teaches some of its most important values), but rather hope and courage to persevere.
The sermon I heard this morning spoke about motives for seeking and doing God's will. It spoke of the mix of obedience and love, recognizing that limiting and restricting our behavior out of obedience to those rules and commandments that are for our own good is part of what is involved, but what is essential is love, love which brings us opportunities to serve God and others. The fullness of life lived in love is what God truly wills for us all.
When I read these words of John, I know the love Jesus has for me and for all people. I know if I love him, devote my life to him and the good that is with him and is him, it will bear fruit, as it is his love and mercy and grace that will help me keep his commandments and love others, the best I can in light of not only his example but the light he shines into my heart and soul.
That's all. I honestly don't think John is about the business of sorting out what happens to the atheists and those of other faiths. He is urgently speaking to what Jesus can give us, the embrace of his love and the love that may infuse us if we only let it. It's not about giving us some kind of sorting hat. It's about the love of Jesus and how that love can transform lives, despite death and suffering. Jesus will not leave us desolate. He will sustain and hold us up, help us to keep seeking and doing the Father's will, even when we feel weak, discouraged, and despairing. That may sound like nonsense to some, but it's not meant to offer a reasonable philosophy of life or the means for persuading those who want logic or arguments. If only we can let Jesus enter our lives, to know his love, then maybe others will see something in us that resonates with the Good News, and they will hear and understand as well.
None of this precludes teaching and modeling moral behavior in the secular world, studying science, enacting and enforcing civil and criminal laws, and working across religions and cultures to advance fundamental human rights. I think all that is vitally important with or without any particular sectarian religious context. I'm also not sure in today's world whether secular notions of morality and justice are not heads above what most religions offer, or at least the majority of their practitioners. That's why as I endeavor to work and live in a much wider world than that inhabited by my fellow Christians and those of similar social and economic backgrounds, I try to think in terms that can contribute to all different kinds of people working together to accomplish things that may not ever happen if we try to first come to some kind of consensus about religion or philosophy down to minute details. While being part of a local and extended faith community is important as well, it cannot be all simply because even within my city, state, and country, such communities are too fragmented to be all that there is in terms of social and political life.
But in the end, there's just me, the only person I can begin to control, doing my best to love Jesus and hoping that, with God's grace, I can indeed keep his commandments. It is hope that I have in Christ and the warmth and assurance of his love that keep me going. And it is keeping going, picking up when I stumble and starting over, persisting in trying to do what is right, that is the toughest part of all.