Chapter 11

The Summing Up

"Then one of the lawyers, who had been listening to these discussions and had noted how well he answered, came forward and asked him, "Which commandment is first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is the only Lord; love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second is this: "Love your neighbour as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12.28-31).

The summing up of the law of God is love, as St Paul writes in Romans 13.10. When we know the full impact of love it is impossible to do wrong to our neighbour. We have already traced the process by which we know the love that transforms our lives. Love comes from God, and we love because of that divine love coming to us, not because we deserve it but because it is God's nature to have love for all his creatures. We are all too often closed to the power of God's love because of the diversions of the world, but when human support fails and we are left to fare for ourself, we become open to God's presence and can accept his unconditional love. Then for the first time in our life we are able to accept ourself as we are, no longer having to hide our defects or to protect ourself against the scrutiny of others by erecting an imposing superstructure around ourself. As we begin to accept ourself in this way, so we are able to accept other people with equal freedom. We can enter into their lives, feel into their personalities and share their woes and delights. This empathy may attain a mystical quality when we can affirm a shared identity with all that lives. Then anything that wounds another person hurts us with an equal intensity. It is in this spirit that we arrive at the golden rule: always treat others as you would like them to treat you, for this is the Law and the prophets (Matthew 7.12). This rule attains fulfilment only as we have acquired sufficient self-control to be constantly aware of our own reactions to the various events of life and the deepening knowledge of the self that accrues from that awareness. At the same time our growing empathy with all life allows us to project that awareness on to those around us. In this frame of mind it is impossible to do anyone else a wrong, for in so doing we injure ourselves equally.

Love therefore comprises three actions: an openness to God's eternal providence, an acceptance of ourself in our present situation with an equally full acceptance of our neighbour, and a free self-giving to our neighbour that he may attain the fullness of being God has in store for him. Expressed thus, loving sounds like unremitting hard work, and so it is. Love is an act of consecrated will whereby we offer ourself unconditionally for the healing of the world under the obedience of God's love to us as revealed by the Holy Spirit. In fact, when we act in love, God fills us with his love so that we grow in spiritual stature as we enable others to grow likewise. In other words, love is not merely an ecstatic emotional experience of fellowship without any explicit commitment to act. Neither is it a hard, joyless vigil of self-renunciation in which we give up everything for the sake of other people. This type of service is so bound up with ideals of duty and mortification that it does not in fact relate either to God or to our neighbour. Much traditional "charity" had this unpleasant aura around it, so that it was proverbially described as cold. In the same way the traditional odour of sanctity often had the mustiness of a stuffy room about it rather than the fragrance of incense.

Love is not to be identified with affection. While affection is valuable in its own right, it cannot be relied on. It is here today and gone tomorrow, because though warm and embracing and full of goodwill, it is liable to wane disastrously as circumstances change. It depends for its ardour on the equable behaviour of the other person, and once he has let one's expectations falter, he is rapidly dropped from his seat of favour. It is not too uncommon to be summarily dismissed from the company of someone whom one really liked and for no reason other than what appeared to be a minor disagreement. But this difference in opinion was magnified into gross disloyalty, and the fellowship was shown to be merely a mechanism of mutual convenience. It is because so many marriages are based on a sincere, immature affection rather than love that they often fail to endure. This does not mean that affection is of no avail; it simply states that while affection provides a necessary atmosphere in which a relationship can flourish, if it is to grow into a durable, stable structure there must be a sure foundation of mutual love. Love alone can withstand the turmoil and the drudgery of unromantic daily life, because both partners are giving unsparingly of themselves for the common good even when they feel bored, depressed and generally disillusioned. Faith and hope bring a relationship to strength while love causes it to triumph over adversity.

The Decalogue is indeed still of paramount importance as the introduction to civilized living. It is the prerequisite for the spiritual life, indeed the essential foundation on which spirituality can develop. Until we are in right relationship with God and our neighbour, we will never be able to attain mystical illumination by means of specialized meditation techniques. There is in the world at present - and no doubt there always has been a similar tendency - a yearning for esoteric knowledge without reference to basic religious discipline. The hope is to transcend personal consciousness and enter the realms of the divine without adjusting one's life to the requirements of basic morality. True spirituality is based on the hard foundation of right action in the world; if the foundation is unstable the esoteric edifice will soon collapse. Thus the great religious traditions stand the test of time, whereas the cults have a mushroom growth and disappearance.

The Ten Commandments stress the fact that love is a discipline. This discipline is embraced in all the statutes of the Law, and as we follow the decrees of God, so our will is strengthened and we are able to work as mature, responsible people. Love, furthermore, if it is real extends to all people, not only to those for whom we have a special affinity. As Jesus tells us, we have to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This injunction cannot be obeyed on the spur of the moment. It entails much heart-searching, much acquaintance with the dark side of oneself, much humility and constant honesty with courage before we can accept someone who is a perpetual source of antagonism and disharmony. We are not expected to exonerate or excuse that person any more than we are to castigate ourself for our lack of forbearance and charity. On the contrary, we have to see the truth clearly and with detachment, and then acknowledge God's gift of himself to us, joyfully proclaiming our own identity. In the state of blessed equanimity we can flow out in genuine acceptance to other people also; in so doing we become instruments of their healing by the grace of God that radiates from us. All this takes time and effort. We are confronted time after time by a sense of heartbreaking failure as the old Adam reasserts itself and demands recompense for what it has done.

In the same way a relationship has to be fostered; much labour has to be expended on it. At first we respond to the lovable qualities of the other person, but as the relationship deepens, so we are confronted by less agreeable traits, while at the same time the darkness in ourself is also brought to the surface. All these conflicting aspects of the personality have to be faced, accepted, loved and finally integrated into the relationship. When the work is pursued with courage and faith, the less attractive aspects of both personalities are gradually healed. Eventually there may occur a transfiguration of both people as they enter the life of mature responsibility that brings them to the divine relationship. It is the acceptance of darkness and its exposure to the light in the face of God that is the essential work of love, both in oneself and in the other person. This is a far cry from an attitude of goodwill or a feeling of affection such as we may evince on a special occasion of general rejoicing.

What have the Ten Commandments to say to our present condition? Are they not irrelevant in an age of such impermanence that no one can forecast the future even a few months ahead? Traditional moral values seem to be placed on one side by the threat of imminent annihilation such as nuclear warfare now poses. What can the younger generation say to a system of values based on a secure family unit and national integrity when many people may never find employment? Are we all, and especially the young, not justified in living life to the full now without reflecting on moral consequences, for who knows what tomorrow may bring in the wake of an international disaster? It must be said at once that there are no easy solutions to the worldwide economic recession and to the paucity of employment that has followed on it any more than there are to the nuclear arms-race. For the unemployment crisis to be positively approached there will have to be a new spirit of sacrifice and responsibility all round so that we can share what resources are available with loving accord. The threat of nuclear destruction can be averted only by a greater change in heart of all people, so that there is trust and co-operation between the super-powers where there is at present only fear and distrust. None of this can be organized; it has to spring from the heart made humble and now open to God's love. At present there is an atmosphere of material disillusionment and spiritual aspiration among many people living in the more developed countries, and one encouraging sign of inner renewal is a deepening awareness of personal responsibility in the world's troubles. No longer can injustice remain hidden under a cloak of ignorance, nor can the feelings of the individual remain stifled beneath the decorum of conventional religion.

In the past, maintenance of the status quo was the excuse for tolerating social abuses, whereas nowadays the establishment is generally the target for all destructive criticism. Unfortunately, those who rail at the traditional established order often have little to put in its place that would significantly improve the lot of the common man. The revolutionary establishments do not in the end seem to bring greater happiness than did their reactionary predecessors. The reason for this depends on the sad truth that while names and politics may change, the personal presence at the helm of government remains imperfect. It continues to be subject to the power of selfish abuse that we call sin. Social injustice breeds evil and should certainly be remedied at once. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the worldly millennium itself would see the end of personal sin, for man does not live by bread alone. Certainly the very rich are often extremely unhappy in their personal lives. Man does not belong primarily to this world. It is his place of sojourn during the brief period of his incarnation, but his true self lives in an eternal realm and finds its home only in God. Therefore the divine presence has to inform all our earthly endeavours. Only then will they be lifted up from expediency to permanence, from belligerent gestures against a ruling class to works of reconciliation in which all people may be healed and sanctified.

The personal value of the Ten Commandments and their counterparts in the other world faiths is that they cause us to develop the will. To face the temptation to steal, even by slightly falsifying an income-tax return, and to conquer it, is a personal triumph. Likewise, to face lustful thoughts and then to put them behind one is an affirmation of the power of self-control over powerful impulses deep in the unconscious. It is similarly a moment of celebration when one can resist the temptation to join in an orgy of criticism of an absent colleague, when one can desist from idle gossip and mean scandal while one keeps one's own counsel. Indeed, the practice of silence is the first step in spiritual growth, so that when one does speak out it is for good purpose, such as exposing corruption or defending the weak and helpless against the cruelty of the strong and able-bodied. Then one's words carry weight, for they are considered and purposeful, not rash outbursts of abuse that are merely destructive if indeed they have any effect at all. Needless to say, none of this is possible on a long-term basis until we are in right relationship with God. In fact, the primary act of will is prayer. Therefore the first three commandments stand at the head of our spiritual life to guide us in the way of considered social action to our parents, those whom we meet day by day and the general run of mankind. Once our prayer life is in order, our will becomes strengthened and increasingly decisive, and our relationships honest and loving. The Decalogue and its various counterparts in the other great religions lead us to the fulfilled life.

Even if we lack employment, we can still behave in a civilized way. The very lack of organized work gives us more opportunity to bring peace and comfort to those around us. This is in fact a major function of the elderly, retired members of society. When we can no longer be active in the streets, we can still disport an active mind and share that activity in listening and giving counsel. One's past experience can act as a well-proven textbook. Furthermore, an attitude of patient concern is more likely to attract work to a younger person than one of idleness or general antagonism to society because of his unemployment. The work that ultimately matters is being of use to those around one at the present moment. If one gives of oneself in a small situation, a larger work will become available as one shows oneself ready to receive it. The person who obeys the moral law will tend to be more attractive to a potential employer than one whose life is undisciplined. What we are radiates from our presence, and those with discernment will soon select the best applicant.

In the realm of sexual relationships there has been the greatest revolution of all, and this within the last few decades. Nowadays honesty of feeling is the essential criterion, and to many observers any type of intercourse between consenting adults is regarded as acceptable. The equation of sin and sexual intercourse outside marriage is now, at least for the great majority of people, a thing of the past. It may well be effectively argued that a probationary period of cohabitation should precede all marriages, in order to cut down the high divorce rate. But it has to be added that living together in an affectionate menage is a long way from marriage. The difference between affection and love is seen very clearly in this contrasted situation. A premeditated living together, however affectionate, can be terminated at any time, whereas love is indissoluble. As St Paul puts it, "There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope and its endurance. Love will never come to an end" (1 Corinthians 13.7-8). Commitment is at the heart of love, and it flows out to the offspring as well as to the other partner. The offspring of unmarried couples lack a basic security that is the fruit of the marital status. On the other hand, marriage should not be undertaken until there is a sober commitment to honour one's pledges to the end of life. This commitment brings with it a searing self-knowledge and a deep emotional link with one's partner. The stress laid on an inviolate family life has been instrumental in the survival of the Jews as an influential group in the world up to this day; their great contribution in the realm of the mind and spirit at least equals their material competence, and that despite the terrible persecutions to which they have been subjected over the centuries. Admittedly the concept of the family has to be widened to embrace all people, but it starts with those close to us in blood and marriage relationships. Once it has been proved on this circumscribed level, it is worthy of extension outwards to include other people in its range.

In the same way, charity does begin at home, but it should not end there. When love reigns in our hearts, it radiates spontaneously from us to our neighbour and outwards to the whole world in passionate intercessory prayer. Commitment leads to spiritual growth, whereas selfish indulgence tends towards stagnation. This is perhaps the essential difference in effect between an affectionate cohabitation and a marriage. There is a point in honouring our parents provided they have proved themselves worthy of honour. There is a difference between married parents and an affectionate couple who live together for a time, bear children and then separate. The end will be a one-parent family, and the parent who has defected can hardly deserve any honour at all. The slipshod bringing up of children bears its own reward in later delinquency. Where there has been no love, the child lacks emotional roots and is all too liable to drift into any unpleasant association.

It needs finally to be said that love does not evade truth. If a person has behaved badly or is offensive to other people, he must be confronted with his actions and the effects they are producing on those around him. To permit him to continue in a socially unacceptable way lest he resents adverse criticism is a mark of cowardice, not love. The dictum of Proverbs 13.24, already quoted, is worth constant reflection: a father who spares the rod hates his son, but one who loves him keeps him in order. Jesus' equally cogent injunctions about loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors does not annul this dictum; rather, it gives it point and purpose. If we react directly and promptly to injustice or socially unacceptable behaviour, we set the wrongdoer on the right course, and as long as he fails to respond, he cuts himself off from the company of his peers. Indeed, a period in the wilderness is an important experience for getting us to know ourself better in complete silence: we return chastened, wiser and more capable of playing our part constructively in our social milieu. Jesus' equally severe injunction against judging other people does not forbid us to evaluate actions. He himself warns us to beware of false prophets, whom we will recognize by the fruits they bear (Matthew 7.15-16). The fruits of our actions have always to be carefully assessed. The wrongdoer, by contrast, should not be judged so much as understood. We do not know the circumstances that have led him into an unacceptable way of life; usually it is a combination of social deprivation and personal inadequacy. Christ could heal the personal factor so that the offender could cope more effectively with the social side. Nowadays we strive, quite rightly, to set the environment in good order as far as possible, but our success in dealing with personal weaknesses is limited. Jeremiah's rhetorical question, "Can the Nubian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" (Jeremiah 13.23), applies all too well to ourself in our personal problems. Only a love such as that of Christ, can produce an inner transformation. Judgement, by contrast, simply confirms the defect, but does nothing to heal it.

Jesus said; "Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to complete. I tell you this: so long as heaven and earth endure, not a letter, not a stroke, will disappear from the Law until all that must happen has happened" (Matthew 5.17-18). Obedience to the Law develops the power of the will, but what Christ brought was the spirit of love. With it the demands of the Law could be fulfilled effortlessly in response to God's call upon us, and universally among all people. In Christ the will of God and man coincide; neither is weakened or deflected. On the contrary, the human will is transfigured to a burning concern for the welfare of all creatures. When all that the Law stands for is achieved, it will have served its purpose. Then it will be inscribed on the heart and become the unwritten law of heavenly love.

So prophesied Jeremiah about 600 years before Christ:

This is the covenant which I shall make with Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will set my law within them and write it on their hearts; I will become their God and they shall be my people. No longer need they teach one another to know the Lord; all of them, high and low alike, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their wrongdoing and remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31.33-4).

What was shown to Jeremiah was fulfilled by Jesus on the cross when he bore the collective sin of the world and poured out forgiveness on those who could not understand. At that moment love entered fully into the world. But until we can accept that love and give it without restraint to all those around us, the Law must remain both our guide to the moral life and our condemnation when we fall on the way. Nevertheless, God stands close behind us in our failures and follies. We must hope that when we have almost succumbed to the madness of nuclear warfare, he will emerge and awaken us to our full estate, which is eternity. At present mankind seems asleep and in the throes of troubled dreams. But when we awake we will find ourselves at the end of the path, and Christ will be there to receive us in the name of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit. At last we will emerge integrated people in the image of Christ himself. In him the Law and the prophets are fulfilled; they are transfigured into a beacon of uncreated light such as attended Jesus at the time of his own transfiguration. That light will bathe the world in divine radiance prior to its resurrection.

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