God Has Made Me Free FOR my Neighbor

Christian kindness is not ordinary kindness, it’s loving kindness. The incarnation is God’s absolute freedom to be for us, and in our behalf. His love is manifesting the entire life and career of Christ, and when we speak of the kindness that is the fruit of the Spirit, we are actually talking bout the kindness that God has shown us in the life and work of Christ. The Spirit works that kindness in and through us, the loving-kindness that redeems and reconciles the world. Our kindness when it is grasped by the Spirit of Christ is brought into the work of God’s reconciliation of the world.

The fruit of the Spirit are the outpouring of God’s goodness in and through us, they are little perfections that are anticipations of eternal glory. They are gifts to us as a community so that we can show the world the nature of the kingdom we believe in. When we make room for them we are anticipating the work of the kingdom and letting that kingdom embody us. Practicing kindness is another way that we participate here and now in the heaven that God has called us to.

Christ Himself is the vine, and the kindness we see in Him is one that bears compassionately with others, and calls the world to repentance in accordance with the coming kingdom. The source of all our action and our hope, our kindness, benevolence and almsgiving is none other than Christ Himself. We see and recognize that to be disciples, we must indeed do those things which we have been commanded.

When we trust God in the patience of knowing the end of the story, that patience will produce in us the kindness to bear with all things, because we know what end we wait for, and we can answer graciously at every turn, in word and deed. Kindness happens when we make room for it, when we learn in patience that God has made room even for the little children. The patience we learn by being friends who trust in God will lead us to loving-kindness, to the kindness rooted in the love of God for the world.

Matthew 19:13-15:

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

Kindness and virtue are eschatologically oriented. Christian kindness is not an action that has no meaning and derives from being a good person. It has to be in our minds shaped in the fires of patience and the gracious response that establishes a small form of reconciliation between God and the world.

Kindness is not just something we do because it’s a nice thing to do or the right thing to do. We as Christians do not seek virtue because it makes us good people. Christians seek virtues because they are heavenly manifestations of the kingdom we claim to believe in. Grace empowers them to lead us and others into the experience of the kingdom here and now.

Polycarp argued that anyone occupied in these three things: growing in the faith, accompanied by hope, and led by love, has fulfilled the commandment of righteousness (ch. 3:2-3). Drawing from the Scriptures he would also say: “Whenever you are able to do a kindness, do not put it off’ (Prov.3:28), because `almsgiving frees from death’ [Tobit 4:10ff]” (ch. 10:2).

To participate in these good works is to liberate ourselves from the throes of death, but just as importantly to liberate in a small way our immediate world from the throes of death by letting the kingdom manifest in our lives and the lives of those around us. Kindness is not just a happy thing to do, it’s a rebellion against the powers of death.

It is for freedom’s sake that God has set us free, but that freedom, is not the freedom from everything, it is the freedom to be truly for anything. Sin had held us bound to death and the chaos and destruction that in brings. The experience of God deepens our appreciation for all things, and allows us to embody life to and for them, in their behalf.

“When the things of earth grow strangely dim,” is when I have failed to understand that the Creator God desires right stewardship of His creation in loving-kindness. The love in this loving-kindness is none other than the self-emptying, crucified, glorified, redemptive, forgiving work of God Himself.

To be free as a Christian means the freedom to be truly for my neighbor. To be able to provide true friendship, true love, true patience, true kindness. The experience of God deepens my creaturely ability to be for the other, because I have recognized an all consuming otherness that has used absolute freedom to act in my behalf also.

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9 thoughts on “God Has Made Me Free FOR my Neighbor

  1. Hey Eli! Reading your post, I have some questions from my Zen perspective. I’m honestly not looking for an argument, but sincerely interested in your thoughts on this. (As one raised in the Christian faith, I have my own take on the answer to thesde questions, but I’d be more interested in yours.)

    What you say about love, and referring it all back to God, etc. raises for me the very same question I have when I hear Christian talk about, well, just about anything.

    Why does it always seem with religionists—Hindu, Christian Jew, it doesn’t matter—that insofar as they recognize the beauty, the grandeur, the glory of a thing, they must always hasten to translate it into God or back to God?

    It seems to me that as one hastens from the thing to God, one effectively cancels out the thing. By calling it “creation,” aren’t we signaling that we are really only interested in the creator? That certainly seems to be the case as I listen to Christians talk about nature.

    It seems to me that this “rush to affirm the Creator” is inimical to any original sense of wonder and awe—as if we dare not see a thing in and of itself. No layers, no thoughts or concepts, no secondary response of the human mind, just this.

    I know my religionist friends tell me that nature is more beautiful to them because of how they relate it to God, and I don’t deny that this might be a beautiful thought, or concept, or feeling. But that “added” beauty seems to me artificial, no offense, and an added thing coming second-hand from one’s upbringing, teaching, and conditioning.

    Where is just simple awareness and attention itself, prior to all thought? Was it beautiful before we thought it was beautiful, because we believe it must have some relation to God?

    It seems to me that we have the experience of the thing, and then our minds rush in with our concepts and beliefs about God, with the fear (it seems to me) that one’s seeing is only legitimate if one sees the thing in and of God.

    Why does the human mind have to add this idea, or concept of God to what’s simply just there?

    If God is really here, He/She/It is also certainly there, in some sense, in the thing being seen, right? Why all these concepts, layers of beliefs, biblical justifications, for just the pure, unadulterated seeing the thing for what it is, in all it’s beauty and glory, just as it is? Why all these concepts and words?

    All of these questions seem to me to apply just as directly to your essay on love. What about love being just that immediate, that instant. If we have to refer all our love back to God, is it really love? Is loving-kindness really only “legit” if we’ve put it through the process of referring it to God and things we’ve read in Scripture?

    Can there be a loving-kindness without biblical justification, love without our secondary estimates of it, love without the human mind’s thoughts about God? When I listen to some Christians talk about love, by the time they’ve hammered it home to God, Christ, the cross, and all the rest, I feel I’m left with a corpse, the victory of human beliefs, not the descent of the Holy Spirit of Love.

    Again, I ask this in genuine bafflement and concern, not to attack your beliefs.

    Steve

    • Hey Steve,
      Thanks for your questions. I’ll provide some answers for you. First thing of note: this is a sermon outline, and mayhap i should specify that, but this post and others on love are often how I prepare to speak on Sundays. But, let’s get into it shall we?

      “Why does it always seem with religionists—Hindu, Christian Jew, it doesn’t matter—that insofar as they recognize the beauty, the grandeur, the glory of a thing, they must always hasten to translate it into God or back to God?”

      I think that this is because the seekers, those who are wanting to truly see recognize that the theological is not the only beauty, but that the beautiful can only be properly theological.

      The glory of things is often argued towards God by some as a way of displacing awe, rather than embracing it. This is always a sad turn of events, but in my case I’m trying to create a theological imagination for my people that allows them to appreciate beauty and goodness in a twofold sense.

      I wish to help my people see the beauty and goodness of theological imagination, so as my primary goal these sermon outlines will reflect that. But in general, I think it is because there is the recognition that God truly is the Beautiful. Classical theism saw the good the true and the beautiful as three pillars upon which stood the good life, and God. What we’ve done in our society is some have made god the true (calvinism) others have made him the good (arminianism) and others have made him pretty (liberal Christianity). WHat’s needed is the synthesis of all three once again, because where the truly beautiful is, there is also goodness and truth.

      “It seems to me that as one hastens from the thing to God, one effectively cancels out the thing. By calling it “creation,” aren’t we signaling that we are really only interested in the creator? ”

      This is often the case, but it doesn’t have to be. what hastens in my heart is that the creator has given me creation to delight in a,d to love god means to love creation. Gnosticism in the classical sense does this, and it’s the affirmation of older protestant churches as well.

      However, by calling it creation we’re making room for acknowledging the creator. The problem of modernism is that it effectively removes the idea of a creator from our language, in such a way that creation becomes autonomous. When creation is truly autonomous, there’s no room for a desire unto goodness or truth or beauty, because nature is what it is and will continue to be what it is.

      What my desire is, is to affirm the goodness of today, the essential life and potential of the world we find ourselves in, and to call it very good. Some might hasten towards the creator in order to leave behind the creation. However, the vision of God that I see the creator desires of me is that just as He embraces creation so too, in my proper love for Him, i embrace the creation as well, and appreciate it for its own sake.

      What I am trying to express is a love of nature on its own terms, because truly, I love the world. I love the beauty of bodies, the unmistakable light of smiles, the swaying movements of speech and thought, the dances we all dance before each other in daily life.

      “It seems to me that this “rush to affirm the Creator” is inimical to any original sense of wonder and awe—as if we dare not see a thing in and of itself.”

      This is a fair critique, however, I’d say the original sense is not the one that shuts the thing off from God, but neither rushes in with insecurity to affirm him emptily. I’d say that the theological dimension has taught me wonder, has taught me that wonder itself is not just a happy thing to do, but a virtue.

      Marveling at the world is something that should be crafted, something developed, for the sake of simple pleasure, as well as for the sake of appreciating God devotionally. But the two aren’t polar opposites, when conceived rightly they go hand in hand. When I love my neighbor I worship God, when I love the world for its own sake I worship God.

      I’d say that the world original is quite fitting here since what I’ve been pushing for is that the original sense is the one that is open to what Christianity calls the coming of God, or the setting right of all things. An appreciation of beauty open to the setting right of all things recognizes the violence among creatures and may even be moved to tears. Yet, it knows that this is not right, and hopes for a final setting right of these things.

      “Where is just simple awareness and attention itself, prior to all thought? Was it beautiful before we thought it was beautiful, because we believe it must have some relation to God?”

      I believe beauty, true beauty not the crap we pass for beauty in such a shallow culture, but true beauty is objective. It remains beautiful before any prior consideration and challenges us to pure contemplation of its form. This simple awareness is vitally important. Anything beautiful is beautiful because it simply is. However, what’s most beautiful and what lies at the center of my aesthetic lens is Christ Himself as the chief beauty and the core of beauty. This obviously will be difficult to an outside perspective, but I’ve learned that the glory of the Lord is beautiful, Israel’s cultic worship recognized such, and I strive to as well. Things are beautiful in and of themselves, and i don’t the that there needs to be an either/or between appreciation in God and appreciation for its own sake. I’d say it’s a both/and. And it’s my hope to convey the both/and. I challenge my congregation to authenticity, and to love, both in the theological sense, but also on a personal level.

      I hope that I don’t arbitrarily apply the idea of God to all things, because that’s not fitting, at least to me. Instead I try to start with Jesus and work my way to God. I have grown to see the world in and with Jesus and His claim on the world.

      I truly do empathize with your quest against the words and modifiers and justifications, because I believe that when we apprehend true beauty it’s ineffable. I know that what happens to me is often beyond words. Yet, as a pastor, I have to provide instruction, and part of that instruction is teaching people to see in and with the bible, to think about it instead of at it. to graciously look through it, rather than throw it at dissenters or outsiders.

      What i hope to do with my definition of loving-kindness is urge my congregation to participate in the reconciliation of all things, not just another belief to tack onto their theological structures. I want them to see their lives in God, and that their actions have true significance for the way that the reconciliation we believe in will take place or not.

      I understand, because I often feel the same way, when love is labored into another action or set of words without meaning, and crushed under the weight of someone’s idea of God. Yet I feel that the creator, doesn’t need this. He’s not an immovable weight, but the dynamic life infilling everything, and drawing it towards Himself.

      Ultimately because of my belief in redemption, love in itself is reconciliation, is my suffering that sets things in their proper place and makes room for them to grow into the way they are supposed to be, while not denying the goodness of their today.

    • Hey Eli.

      Finally got some time to ponder your response.

      First, it makes a huge difference to me to know that what I responded to was a sermon outline, and in effects, your notes for the sermon. That, to me, explains a lot, and I dare say my own notes and drafts of a post would be possibly problematic to others as well!

      You say:
      >I think that this is because the seekers, those who are wanting to truly see recognize that the theological is not the only beauty, but that the beautiful can only be properly theological.

      Sorry, my friend, this statement makes no sense to me whatsoever. Properly? Only theological? I can accept that this is a statement of your faith, your value judgments, but nothing more than that. It’s certainly not self-evident. I find multitudinous logical and epistemological problems with this assertion, and no doubt, we could debate the point endlessly. Nothing fruitful in that! 🙂

      I think I follow your reasons and intent in terms of helping create a “theological imagination for my people,” and that is certainly your job as their preacher (or whatever term is proper for your tradition.) And unlike many I’ve read, you are doing a wonderful job, it seems to me.

      Alas, for me, and many others, the problems you outline — the separation of the beautiful, good, and true — are the very problems that don’t come up unless you have already approached these qualia from the standpoint of a human mind looking at “divinity” and unable to grasp it except in terms of dualities and division. To me, it is not really a metaphysical problem; it’s an intellectual and semantic problem. In Buddhism, the problem doesn’t even come up. You can just awaken to what’s there, without all these encumbering concepts and thoughts about creations, creators, and all the rest.

      In one sense, I applaud the mighty works of the theologians to try to fix the incredible mess their very own assumptions about God, and the beautiful, good, and the true, create. Another part of me is not so charitable about the incredible damage and suffering all this theologizing has done, and the tortures and murders that have been done in the name of these theologies, all with highest and best intent.

      I’m glad we agree that (re. the hastening to God criticism) that ‘This is often the case, but it doesn’t have to be.”

      You say:
      >”By calling it a creation, we’re making room for acknowledging a creator.”

      Perhaps, but it still seems unnecessary for me, an addition of the human mind to what is just there. And of course, this begs the question of whether or not this “room for a creator” points to the God of the Bible, or the Brahma of the Upanishads, or even a “Whoever.”

      You say:
      >The problem of modernism is that it effectively removes the idea of a creator from our language, in such a way that creation becomes autonomous.

      What modernism and modern science (thank God!) remove from our language is the idea of a “God” who created the world 6,000 years ago and all the other bronze-age ideas about an anthropomorphic sky-god who is the vengeful, partial god of the tribe. (I know, a harsh characterization, but it’s not my Bible; the full-time job of bible-based theologians is to somehow justify and sacralize these pre-scientific ideas of creation and often incredibly undeveloped, primitive ideas of divinity to a modern world.)

      I’m also not sure why an “autonomous” creation is problematical, unless you pre-suppose a creator god, or see creation in terms of terms of “first causes” and all the attendant philosophical problems that idea entails.

      So often I get this sense from Christians that you’ve got to have this Big Parent or Enforcer overlooking everything, or there will be chaos and disorder, and things will just run amuck. (I guess that makes sense if you buy the whole original fall scenario; disobedient kids kicked out Eden by angry daddy God!) So much of this seems to me such an unredeemed projection of the human child/parent relationship onto the Godhead. Never a sense that the thing (or the child), in and of itself my have to wherewithal to be and do good and break free of all limitations.

      You say:
      >When creation is truly autonomous, there’s no room for a desire unto goodness or truth or beauty, because nature is what it is and will continue to be what it is.

      Sorry, another sentence that makes no sense to me at all, and the logic seems untenable, to boot. In the circular logic that only sees things in terms of a God, I’m sure that makes great sense, but if you don’t start with that hypothesis, it makes no sense at all. There’s nothing about desire for goodness, truth, or beauty that requires, a priori, a creator god.

      You say:
      >However, the vision of God that I see the creator desires of me is that just as He embraces creation so too, in my proper love for Him, i embrace the creation as well, and appreciate it for its own sake.

      >What I am trying to express is a love of nature on its own terms, because truly, I love the world. I love the beauty of bodies, the unmistakable light of smiles, the swaying movements of speech and thought, the dances we all dance before each other in daily life.

      Truly beautiful! And this seems far closer to the truth.

      You say:
      >When I love my neighbor I worship God, when I love the world for its own sake I worship God.

      Looking deeply into your words, I think I could agree with that, in spirit. The duality has disappeared. But I must say, you Christians have to work so hard, it seems to me, do so much heavy lifting, to get to this place of simplicity. Maybe that’s just what some souls need, but I don’t think it’s, ipso facto, necessary unless you have already accepted a whole bunch of intrinsically problematical concepts about reality.

      You say:
      >However, what’s most beautiful and what lies at the center of my aesthetic lens is Christ Himself as the chief beauty and the core of beauty.

      I appreciate and fully respect this.

      You say:
      >Things are beautiful in and of themselves, and i don’t the that there needs to be an either/or between appreciation in God and appreciation for its own sake. I’d say it’s a both/and. And it’s my hope to convey the both/and. I challenge my congregation to authenticity, and to love, both in the theological sense, but also on a personal level.

      That’s wonderful. I wish more Christians got this.

      Re you last 4 paragraphs:

      Wonderful! Though we may disagree on “principles” I feel the true spirit of what you are saying and find little to disagree with in the spirit of what you say.

      Whew, this is a long reply. I don’t know if it is fair to your blog to post such long comments. If you ever want to go “offline” and discuss via e-mail, or would just I rather not weigh in with so much verbiage 🙂 I certainly understand.

      All the best,
      Steve

    • Hey Steve- I’m a friend of Eli’s and hope you don’t mind my taking a crack at answering some of your question. Here’s something to consider-would you go to a museum and admire the beauty or creativity in a piece of art without giving a thought to the artist who made it? Or see an awesome play at a sporting event and not give credit to the players for making the play? This is pretty basic but the foundation as to why credit is given to God. Yes, the beauty and creativity is certainly worth taking notice, but it doesn’t stop there. In admiring those things one can’t HELP but also admire and/or acknowledge the one who created them.

    • Quick reply – may not be able to answer in full until Sunday night.

      Quicker response — I appreciate the questions you raise, but I don’t really think they much to do with the very specific points I’m making with our friend Eli.

      My point is that painting is great, because it is great; if you have to know that a Van Gogh created a painting to *then* think it is great, then that’s utterly bogus and artificial. With your questions, you are moving on to an entirely different issue, as far as I am concerned, about possibly wanting to know the painter, or about him/her, or whatever. But as soon as you go there, especially with nature, or the physical universe, and then want to use the beauty of nature or the physical universe as arguments for a creator god, then you’ve moved on to a whole different problem, and the biggest can of worms I can think of.

      Your questions, to me, simply beg the creator question, and the argument for a creator god from beauty is a hoary one and one I’ve been over a thousand times (and far greater minds than mine have come down on both sides of the question)….. I had no intent to argue God’s existence, or not, as creator…I’m making an entirely different point, though perhaps not well enough to be easily seen, I regret to say from your response….

      More later…best wishes,
      Steve

    • Rachel, thanks again for weighing in. I think my quick reply says enough. The points you raise seem to me to be simply another version of the “argument from design” rationale for God, and frankly, “been there, done that,” and I don’t buy it.

      Best wishes,
      Steve

  2. Steve, great response, and I feel that blogs are the places for comments, even if they’re long, the dialogue is good, it shows our openness to each other, and an attempt to create common meaning. The desire to understand each other is at its heart beautiful.

    I think that we could get bogged down in principles, but again, this is a sermon outline for my community, and these are things they need to hear. Personally, Eastern Christianity really appeals to me because it’s got less linear logic, and speaking that way appeals to my heart. Though I’m proficient in Western rational debate, I’m trying to pick up on the eastern style a bit more.

    Some of my arguments I’ll admit are products of the worldview I’ve adopted, and I own that fully. But nevertheless, I appreciate your concerns, comments and continued dialogue.

    Just a heads up, I’m gonna be doing a series starting tomorrow on academic Christian theology’s idea of revelation. You may find it enlightening, interesting or too bogged down in concepts and theologizing.

    I don’t think Christianity teaches me to accept that the world only looks millions of years old, i’m not insane afterall, but more on that some other time.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  3. You are such a dear heart. Thanks for your strong but loving reply. You may have a Western background, but you feel like the Eastern Christianity I always had the greatest affinity for as well. (And by “Eastern,” as you know, I’m not talking about Asian influenced Christianity, but what, thank goodness, was preserved in the Eastern Church.)

    I deeply respect your fealty to your core beliefs, by the way, and wouldn’t expect less from a person of your integrity, and yes, these are the things you flock needs to hear and expects to hear if they are following this path. We may disagree on principles and semantics, but I’d fight to the death for your right to preach Christ just as you are doing, and I know you’d do the same for me in my practice.

    Thanks for the heads-upon the upcoming series on revelation. 🙂 I’ll try to remember you are working on your sermons, and not writing Christian apologetics for edification of some Zen guy! 🙂

    >>I don’t think Christianity teaches me to accept that the world only looks millions of years old, i’m not insane afterall, but more on that some other time.

    LOL! Yeah, well, me bucko, that “beeelions” of years old, as Carl Sagan was famously parodied for saying. 🙂

    I look forward to your thoughts on revelation. I hope some day you get a chance to read Nicolas Berdyaev’s “Truth and Revelation.” I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever read on the subject, and I suspect you might well resonate with his Eastern Church roots and mysticism.

    As ever, your friend,
    Steve

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