Monday, May 18, 2020

If love isn’t first, the commandments of God become distorted and understood in an impoverished way.

Sound theology always needs to have us understand that no matter how much good we can do in life, be it good for others, or good that is ordered toward God directly, we are led to it by the grace of God.  Nothing happens without God first supplying the grace that is needed for us to do anything good.  In fact, nothing exists without the grace of God sustaining existence itself.  

Why is it important that we understand this, and accept this as truth?  Principally because it mitigates against any form of Pelagianism, which is the heresy that believes that human nature and the human person has the free will to achieve and attain perfection simply on his own accord.  Take this heresy to its extreme, and it can lead one to believe that heaven and all that heaven promises can be earned and strived for just by willing oneself to, devoid of God’s willing of it to happen. As well, Pelagianism taken to its extreme can easily lead one to fill oneself with human pride and hubris, which are expressions of what caused the fall of our first parents in the early pages of the Book of Genesis.  The primacy of grace prevents this from infiltrating into the hearts and minds of those of us who are baptized in Christ.  Understanding that God’s grace comes first is not only elementary for any Christian, but also something that helps us to remain humble no matter how much good we can do in life.

In God’s giving the Hebrew people (and us) the decalogue or ten commandments, a similar important sequence has been revealed.  The Christian faith has often been given a bad name because it has been wrongly seen as a religion of commandments and laws.  While it is true that all of us Christians are morally ordered, guided and directed by the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments that were given to us through Moses by God on Mount Sinai (or Horeb), the imparting of these commandments did not come first in the Hebrew peoples’ experience of their encounter with God.  What came first before the commandments were given, was the salvation of God through the first Passover in Egypt, where their first-born were spared their lives. This act of salvation was a very concrete encounter of God’s love for them.  It was much later while they were in the wilderness that God gave them the commandments, to give them an ordered way to live, so that their lives and how they lived was a response to the love that was first shown them.  In short, in the experience of God, it was love first, and the laws or commandments second.

Understanding this is, I believe, a great game changer when it comes to responding well to the commandments given by God.  They are then no longer just rules to follow and obey, but rather are the medium through which our love for God is expressed and demonstrated.  It therefore necessarily means that one’s experience of God’s love is primordial before the commandments of God are accepted and lovingly followed.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case for many people who have come into the faith, or at least it isn’t demonstrated to them in a clear way.  To be sure, for most of them, God’s love had been seen in inceptive and inchoate ways, for example, in the gift of their families, loved ones, experiences of blessings in life, the splendor of nature and just in the gift of life itself. But the human tendency is to take all these for granted and to only think of God’s love as something that should be experienced outside of such gifts of his grace.  The human tendency is to, as they say, miss the forest for the trees.  The entire journey of the RCIA process necessarily should include moments for these blinkers over the eyes of the catechumens to be removed, and to see them as God’s revelation of his grace and his love. When this important aspect of the journey is omitted or unaddressed, the result is that the Elect can be baptized, with hardly any experience of identifying how their lives had been touched by God’s love up till that point.  

Once hearts and eyes are opened to see familiar things in a new and unfamiliar way, there will be much less problems when it comes to accepting the commandments of God, now no longer just as stand alone laws, but modes through which our lives can be lived as a response to the unmerited love that God had been giving us and sustaining us in life all the while.  

The same importance is just as true and necessary for children who are baptized as infants into the faith. Along the timeline of their physical development from being toddlers, then pre-teenagers and then teenagers, and lastly into adulthood, it is just as important that they are guided to see God’s blessings and be grateful for them, rather than to be blasé and nonchalant.  

Not developing a grateful heart is a sure way to be disdainful of the gift of God’s commandments which in essence, are commandments of how to love God and how to love neighbour.  

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