Friday, October 14, 2005

The Problem of Mystery and Christian Love

Here you can find some thoughts on "The Problem of Mystery," discussing the distinction between things that are a problem and things that are a mystery.

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I was listening to Dennis Prager this morning and he had a Christian call up and express confusion over loving a sinner, even loving a very evil person. What is a Christian to do, in light of the command to love your enemy? More to the point, what is this love the Bible speaks of?

Is it to have warm feelings for someone? Is it to make them feel better? Is it the same love a parent has for a child? Or is it something else? Like wanting what is good for them? Which would mean justice since justice is a good and therefore would allow someone to love another and still seek just punishment for a crime they have committed.

1 comment:

T.F. Whaling said...

"Is it to have warm feelings for someone? Is it to make them feel better? Is it the same love a parent has for a child? Or is it something else? Like wanting what is good for them? Which would mean justice since justice is a good and therefore would allow someone to love another and still seek just punishment for a crime they have committed."

I quite frequently think of this myself. I always find myself tethering on the issue. Of course, no fault to Jesus, but 'love' is such an ambiguous concept...I'm sure He had a concrete meaning, but I'm also sure I don't know it!

Many times He seems to demand the impossible, and I struggle to even understand the secret of 'the easy yoke.'

If only he'd given us a definition! Or am I so out of touch with love that I need a definition? There's MY rub! Perhaps if we really loved, we'd understand the answers to these questions. Not that I want to say we don't really love, but I do believe that humans aren't capable of a pure understanding of love. When it happens, I don't think it systematically correlates to a series of propositions, but is rather led by the Spirit, which, while intelligible is still inspiring with a truth that (let's say) is within, but spills over, our own understanding.

Kant turns this kind of love into a cold philosophic duty, the categorical imperative. Here, I think the spirit of love is lost. Of course, I think love implies duty, in the sense of fidelity (on an existential plane).

My problem is...I feel like the old adage 'I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it.' So too...it seems with love. But I can never satisfactorily define it, by which I (personally) would totalize it relative to a global notion of justice. I think love and punishment are not mutually exclusive, and along the lines you stated. Yet, I don't know how far this can be taken.

Jesus also tells His apostles who reject His love and message to wipe the dust off their feet from that town. This seems to suggest that whatever the notion of Christian love is, we may spread it, but cannot lord it over others. Or that's how I read the passage.

The odd thing about love is the freedom to reject it. This, I believe, problematizes HUMAN justice. Human justice can't seem dependent upon the Christian claim to ultimacy regarding our undersanding of love. If it were so, we should be arguing for a theocracy. Not that the Christian voice should be excluded, but again, Jesus does seem to suggest that our love, like His, can't be forced upon others, but must come like a calling which always risks rejection.

So what to do with justice? I don't know. I don't say this as a cop-out to not provide a solution. I have severe difficulties understanding how justice does not demand a separation of Church and State. But if that is so, we must now deal with pluralistic competition over the very notion of justice, and this gives me great discomfort.

Perhaps we could, as the U.N. declaration of human rights attempts, a reduction of 'basic moral sentiments,' but the problem is GROUNDED ON WHAT? The imperative weight is somewhat lost when we appeal to sentiments. Yet, while for Christians it is an imperative to love, our love never demands a commitment on the part of the other, the beloved.

*sigh* Alas, perhaps I am too liberal in my thinking here? But, if so...again..what is love that it permits us to force itself upon others? Is it paternalism, as you mentioned? The "I know your good better than you..." But even if I do, does the essential Gospel message allow me to force that knowledge into a notion of justice the rest of the world must conform to? I can't see that.

The question is so vital, but seems so impossible for me to answer. I don't know what to do except to pray for peace, and try and live my life in justice.

I guess another question is, Jesus is obviously espousing passificism, but on such a personal level, it makes it difficult to apply on a grander scale. Did He mean for THE WORLD to turn it's cheeck, or for ME to turn my cheeck? Genocide, rape, molestation, etc...must outrage Him and it outrages us. Yet, we're given a particular injunction to be passifistic relative to personal actions, but He doesn't seem (in the Gospels) to comment much about 3rd party actions, whereas we MUST know and believe God does not condone such atrocities as genocide, etc.

A thought just occured...if we were to make the leap from the personal passificism, could we not do so from the Pauline notion of the Church as the mystical body of Christ? Perhaps this is where the Christian call to social justice receives its authority, precisely as that mystical body. Still...it's walking on eggshells for me. If "'Vengence is Mine,' sayeth the Lord," yet we are in part His mystical body, perhaps there is where the demand to manifest His justice comes? I don't know. The notion causes hesitancy in me, as Love and Righteous Indignation are hard concepts for my mind to reconcile. I know God has them both, but I fear for a community that believes in the right to act on their righteous indignation. But my fear itself is obviously a slippery slope fallacy, but historically with some warrant.

Thanks for the post. I will meditate on this...God bless, and I hope the grace of God fill our hearts in the Eucharist today with enough Love to get us through to our next encounter with Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

Shabbot Shalom!
T.F. Whaling