Thursday 17 August 2017

How can loving God be *commanded* as more important than anything else?

Matthew: Chapter 22: 34-40. But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

There is no doubt that The Bible, including the Old Testament Ten Commandments and the Gospels, commands us to Love God as the first, greatest and most important thing we must do...

But how is this possible? How may love be commanded?

The apparent problem is that we assume Love is a feeling, and a feeling cannot be manufactured; but even if it could, what would be the good of manufacturing a feeling of Love for God?

My understanding is that the The First and Great Commandment is about metaphysics, not feelings; it is about our first principles as a Christian, our most basic assumptions concerning how things truly are, how reality works.

Therefore, we are being told that everything in the Christian life 'hangs' on our assumption that God loves us. That is why God made everything, why God made this earth, why God made men and women, why we are incarnated and placed in mortal lives, and why we experience all the things we experience including death. All this is because God loves us.

It implies also the the nature of God is such that he loves - however we envisage God, we must represent the deity in a way compatible with love being God's primary characteristic.

How we may do this is set-out: because the most frequent term for God in the Gospels is 'Father'; and we are described as Sons and Daughters of God.

In sum, the Christian must interpret life and the world in this way - as a product of God's love. And this is non-negotiable - it is not put forward as a proposition to be tested by experience or reason; it is a metaphysical assumption.

If we ever interpret anything as contradictory to the fact and assumption of God loving us; we are definitely making a mistake.

But how can each of us, personally, reach such an assumption? Well, how did we, as (let's assume) a child of a real life loving Father and Mother, reach a similar assumption about our parents? Not from evidence, clearly - not from some kind of balance-sheet.

Such convictions come from direct, intuitive knowing - beyond the senses, beyond logic, beyond measurement. And that this direct form of intuitive knowledge is valid, is therefore required by Christianity.

If you want to be a Christian, you must know that God loves us; and know it in the same kind of way that you know your Father and Mother love you. And live life on that basis. That is the first and great commandment.

And you must find this out by introspection, by intuition; you must just-know-it above and beyond and behind all other things you know; this solid assumption framing and interpreting all other things you know.

And that this direct knowing of God's love is possible and valid and achievable is also implied by the first and great commandment. 


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Interesting interpretation, but it still leaves the question of how one can be commanded to "just know" something. Knowledge is no more subject to the will than feelings are. If one doesn't already know that God loves us, or even that he exists, how does one go about obeying the command to know it?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - My understanding is that as the consciousness of Man changed, so the understanding/ meaning of 'commandment' changed.

In the early tribal Hebrew society a command would have meant that this was the will of the people, the group - and at that time individuals were not fully distinguished from the group, the 'self' had not divided itself from the group in the way we are used to. Each commandment probably just a specially-emphasised but indivisible part of a way of life that defined group membership.

We modern people would find it difficult to understand what a command meant in those days - perhaps an expression of reality for the tribe, without which you are not a tribe member? In other words, a command described a metaphysical reality at the group level - 'if you don't see things this way, you are not one of us'.

Our traditional theology comes mainly from the middle ages, by when a commandment seems to have been regarded as like a King's will as expressed in formal statement (the King being God's representative).

More recently, a commandment seems to have been regarded as a quasi-military instruction, as if from a superior officer: a command = an order. Modern people see the commandments in this relatively separate sense, and obedience to them as implying relatively narrow and specific 'following instructions' rather than tribal membership, or loyalty to a divinely ordained monarch.

I think the idea of a commanment has therefore narrowed from a way of life which had multiple aspects and applied to a group; to one which is much more like a specific order applied to a specific individual.

My sense is that (at least as mature adults - the situation for younger chidlren is different) we are Not supposed to regard a Chriatian commandment as an 'external' command that ought to be obeyed, or else we will be punished. This is a meaning-less thing, for the modern mind - it is perceived as analogous to arbitrary bureaucratic rules that govern our lives.

I think we are supposed to understand command as a metaphysical description of fundamnental reality - but clearly the command is expressed in words, it is a communication subject to distortion and misunderstanding, it is inevitably an incomplete summary...

Bruce Charlton said...

(continued) " If one doesn't already know that God loves us, or even that he exists, how does one go about obeying the command to know it?"

Well, I do not think there is (nor is there meant to be) any plan or program that we are each supposed to follow. The basic situation of mortal life is that, on the whole, we are meant to work things out for ourselves - this being the best, sometimes only, way to learn - and we are here to learn, not primarily to obey (obedience is a means to an end, only).

Ideal human life is Not supposed to be a matter of *obedience* to a comprehensive set of 'external' rules/ laws/ practices (these rules being in practice uncertain and controversial, hard to discover, hard to understand, changing through time etc.).

We are substantially and ever more so 'on our own' in an existential sense; and this is the intention. We have been given what is needed to find our own way, but it is up to us to make the choices; including the primary choice of which side we will be on.

So how do we set about living by the first commandment? Well, we have to decide what we will assume about the kind of creation we live in, and the nature and purpose of the creator. (If we decide that reality is not created and there is no creator, then that will be the basis of our metaphysics - as in The West. Clearly, then, we have decided against Christianity.)

There is a kind of circularity about all metaphysical assumptions - we have choice between them, yet it is a choice between what are (substantially, although not fully) self-validating systems. There is an inarticulate baseline that stands outside metaphysics and very much outside of linguistic summaries of metaphysics.

What the first commandment seems to be articulating is the wordless conviction that Christianity only works (as intended) when the metaphysical assumptions give primacy to the creator being personal, and loving. Without this assumption, then everything Christian will be distorted, and perhaps counter-productive - like so much actual and historical 'Christianity'.

How do we make ourselves believe this? I suppose by discovering for ourselves, in whatever way we personally find convincing, that it is true - and then 'testing' its coherence and adequacy in the course of living and thinking.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Deciding what to assume isn't the same as "just knowing." The fact that you can decide means you don't know and you know you don't know. I decided to assume the existence of God; it didn't turn me into a theist. "I have no idea whether or not God exists, but I've decided to proceed on the assumption that he does" is infinitely distant from actual faith. "Deciding" and "assuming" don't even enter the picture in cases where one actually knows.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Well, the assuming comes-in in deciding exactly what it is that one is going to seek revelation about. I think we need to first assume the nature etc of God, then seek direct knowledge of whether or not this assumed-God is real.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - See today's blog post.

Obie said...

To love God is to keep His commandments. Christ confirms this in John 14:15.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Obie - The point of this post is to understand what that means... clearly it does not mean that loving God is obedience to a list of laws; or else the Pharisees would have been serving God instead of the devil.