Thursday, December 07, 2006

Beauty, the Word of God, and the nature of morality

Confucius spoke of the ideal man, one whose thoughts were moved only by the Odes, whose actions were moved only by the Odes, whose words were moved only by the Odes. The Odes can be thought of in an idealized way as an ancient poetry of primal beauty that reveals the right order of the world; this poetry, once planted in our hearts, would cause the actions to be of similarly pure beauty. Many of the Israelites considered the Torah in a similar way as a thing of exceptional beauty, and that likewise someone whose life was holy would be ordered around the Torah, moved when it moved, silent when it was silent, spoke what it spoke. As Confucius may have conceived of the Odes as a kind of Natural Law, so the Israelites thought of the Torah as an expression of Natural Law, which is to say an expression of God's character, as the beautiful law which could not be otherwise without lessening the world.

Christians recognize that archetypal Word of God as the power by which God made the world, the creative beauty which gave it shape. We recognize the same loving and creative force, the same Word of God embodied in Jesus of Nazareth; we recognize him by his embodiment as the one who was moved by the Torah, who spoke when it spoke and was silent when it was silent, who lived that life of beauty, holiness, peace, and power whose possibility was promised by the existence of the Word.

This archetype -- the Word of God which transforms us and makes us holy -- arouses great desire and longing in humanity. But so long as the Word of God was a book, or a half-forgotten Ode of surpassing beauty, it could do little more than arouse in us holy frustration. When the Word of God was embodied before our eyes as Jesus of Nazareth, we saw more clearly, remembered more completely, the hints of the things of God, things that had been half-known or half-forgotten, half-suspected or half-doubted. Beyond Jesus showing us the Word clearly, he also spoke that Word of God to us again. The Sermon on the Mount from the Blessings to the end, the sheep and the goats, the law of love, the greatest commands -- these are the ancient Word of God which set the world in order. These are the words that the listening poets have strained to catch. From creation, this is the Word of God that was spoken over the dust as we were made.

The true nature of morality, as the Living Word, the Christ, made clear, is a joyful and loving thing, reserving anger for those things that dam the River of Life and profane the Holy Name. The true essence of morality is a thing that naturally attracts us to itself. The tedium of laws was given because of our need, broken humanity's need to be confronted about all the selfish and spiteful ways in which we mistreat and demean each other and cheapen each others' lives. Life by the Spirit of God is not like this.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

3 comments:

DugALug said...

WF,

You write some deep stuff. I love how these really compell me to think more. Keep up the great work.

The true essence of morality is a thing that naturally attracts us to itself.

I don't think I quite understand this. Maybe you could elaborate more? I attach morality to the law and there is nothing humanly attractive about this.

The loving God-nature (put in us through the Holy Spirit) that resides in us is what is attractive.

Morality is vicariously set on a very narrow road between grace and hypocricy. It is like a reflection of the life that we live. Maybe that is what is attractive: the fruit of the Spirit that follows the path that we walk?

Thanks for the deep thought of the day.

God bless
-Doug

Weekend Fisher said...

What I'm saying is that true morality is not attached to the type of law that says "Thou shalt not harm this way, thou shalt not harm that way, don't even think about how the other guy's stuff ought to be yours", yada yada. Of course I'm not saying that kind of law is "immoral", it's just ...

Are you familiar with the letter to the Hebrews? How one of the main arguments is that the things of the Old Covenant were a shadow of the things to come? How the earthly things were a pattern that just reflected better and heavenly things that had not yet been revealed?

That's the difference between the 600+ laws of the Torah and the two (one?) of Jesus: Love. The 600+ laws of the Torah foreshadowed true morality, just like the sacrifices of bulls and goats and sheep foreshadowed Calvary.

Which is to say, the true morality is ... how you put it "the loving God-nature". Or as Paul put it, the fruit of the Spirit (loving God-nature) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." I.e. if you're moved by the true Spirit of the Law, you won't run afoul of the written code anyway.

DugALug said...

WF,

Thanks for elaborating. I have always seen morality as a litmus/biproduct of the law. This is an interesting view.

When Jesus stated the love commandments, His words were to the effect that if you love the Lord and people, then you 'fullfill the whole law'. To me means that The spirit of the 600+ laws is emodied in this 1 or 2 commandments. So I would say that the difference is nothing, but I would say that living those two commandments is every bit as hard as the 600+: enter the Holy Spirit.

I love your take on this. I'll have to think about it some more.

God Bless
Doug