Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Why We Can't Make Friends and Influence People

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." Deut. 6:5

"The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any who did understand and seek God. They have all turned aside; they have all become filthy. There is none that does good; no, not one." Ps. 14:2-3

"Jesus said unto him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.'" Matt. 22:37-38 (c.f. Mark 12:30)

"There is none righteous; no, not one. There is none who understands. There is none who seek after God." Rom. 3:10-11

Our "best" is dull anarchy.
To love God, to seek Him with all that you are, to desire Him above all others, saving yourself only for Him, obsessing yourself only over Him---that is the pinnacle and peak of all morality. If we are to be perfect (Matt. 5:48) and holy (I Peter 1:15-16), then that is the road we must take. And yet Scripture declares that "none do good," an absurd statement from our point of view. We see good deeds all the time. We may even have done a few ourselves. That, however, is our problem. We define "good" as doing "good things," any and every good thing, as many as we can as often as we can. Our view of morality is scattered and fragmented, with "good deeds" being a cobbled together collection of equally-sized stones that we pile upon the ground. Maybe if our pile is big enough, we'll be all right in the end.

God has a very different view of morality, however. It is not fragmented and scattered but hierarchical and structured. It is not like equally-sized stones piled upon the ground, but rather like unequally-sized stones built fitly together into a solid structure, like an arch. And just like an arch, there is a keystone, a singular prime good atop the hierarchy that holds the whole edifice together: love God, with all that you are and all that you've got.

Morality as hierarchical art.

This is one of the most offensive (and thus most easily forgotten) truths of Christianity: the "golden rule" is actually the silver rule. What we thought and have taught to be the first and greatest commandment is actually the derivative of another one greater still. And why shouldn't we have made such a mistake? To "love others as yourself" is easy enough to believe. It makes sense and has a certain emotional satisfaction about it. It is also easy to identify and easier to appreciate because it is very practical: it produces results that can be measured, and so we can quantify its success.

Thus, the so-called "golden rule" has become a cliche, an idol, a golden calf and sacred cow all across the world. And as with all idolatry, the truth brings the sword to it and leaves everybody outraged, for what is more outrageous than loving God first, above all others? Above your neighbors, above your guests (Luke 10:38-42), above the poor (Matt. 26:6-13), above your parents (Matt. 8:21-22) and all your family (Mark 3:32-35) including your spouse and children and all other relations (Matt. 10:34-38; Luke 14:26-27), above all your possessions (Luke 14:33, 18:22-25), and even above yourself and all your realization and fulfillment and discovery and aggrandizement (Matt. 10:39; Mark 8:34-35; John 12:25)? In any and every case, we are left with only one conclusion: God first, God only, and God always.

That is why we can't make friends and influence people, why we can never be respectable or fashionable. It is also why "none do good." Loving God is the perfection of all morality, the solid and sure foundation of all goodness and decency. To try and "be good" by "doing good" without this prime good is like trying to build an arch without a keystone, or trying to win a spelling bee without even knowing the alphabet. You may accomplish an impressive scattering of stones or string of gibberish, but it all falls short of the glory of God. You have forgotten the vital piece, the glue that holds the whole structure together and erect. You have forgotten God, and that  is what reduces your morality to rubble, and your righteousness to filthy rags.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment