Of Freedom Pt 1: As I have loved…
Perhaps my time in the Land of the Free made things a little clearer. Maybe it was just diffusion; an inevitable ideological trickle that made me re-examine how I perceived the issue of God and free will, that subject of many a late-night discussion at university over cups of tea and loaves of buttered toast. As a friend of mine recently posted, “if you don’t believe in predestination, don’t worry about it. You’re either right, or you might have been pre-destined not to believe in it.”
My current flurry of thinking came not from an intellectual exercise (this time), but from a snap realisation about the character of God.
God really, really values freedom. There aren’t many things he prizes more highly than human freedom.
Back to the start.
Rabbis in Jesus’ day were, I am led to believe, rather fond of rules. Matthew 22:35-40 recounts a question set as a trap to Jesus: what is your pick of all the commandments of the law – which is the most important? Of course, Jesus responds without missing a beat: love God with your whole being, and love your neighbour as yourself. St Augustine of Hippo is reputed to have said “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” But of course, we know that it is possible to be convinced of one’s love for God and still be a graceless bigot, so 1 John follows Matthew in clarifying, “whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”
So of all the rules that Jesus might have laid out, instead he lays out love, and then goes and demonstrates it:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends…” (John 15:9-15a).
What Jesus is saying here is oddly circular. The Father has loved the Son, and so the Son keeps his Father’s commandments precisely by loving the Father and by sharing the Father’s love with those around him. In the same way, he says, I have loved you, so the dual command – remain in my love and share my love with others – is precisely the same “rule of life” that the Son has been living by.
All those other commandments, the ones we squirm at (not being angry with our brother or sister) the ones we like (such as healing the sick and raising the dead), the ones we feel slightly guilty about (preaching the gospel to all nations) are all fruit of obeying this one double-decker command, as Jesus goes on to remind them: “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” And so loving one another is the means and the end. This is the command of Christ; nothing less and nothing more.
There are no half-measures to this command. It is the non-negotiable one, the one command that nobody gets out of. But once that is set, suddenly a whole vista of liberty opens up, which I’ll be thinking about in the next few posts.